RIGHTS, DUTIES AND FREEDOMS
Under the Human Rights Act 1998, which came into force in October 2000, there are certain rights and freedoms that are protected. The significance of this act is to offer legal rights to everyone in a democratic country. The United Kingdom does not have a written constitution, this is very unusual in a democracy, and our rights and freedoms have traditionally been protected by a presumption that we are free to do anything that is not covered by a specific forbidding law or piece of legislation. Under the Human Rights Act we now have that written confirmation of our rights, duties and freedoms. Anyone withholding those rights, for example wrongful imprisonment or racism is now liable for prosecution and possible imprisonment.
A citizen acquires certain rights at certain ages.
Sue for personal injuryFrom birth
Watch a film with ‘U’ classification5
Watch a ‘PG’ film with parents or guardian5
Drink alcohol at home, if an adult provides it.8
Fully criminally responsible10
Be given a supervision order as a criminal sanction10
Legally capable of rape10
Be sent to a Secure training centre as a criminal sanction12
Consent to sex, but if an adult obliges they are guilty of a criminal offence13
Drink alcohol in a licensed premises if it is with a meal16
Marry with judicial/ parental consent16
Consent to heterosexual sex16
Drive a car17
Marry without consent18
Have homosexual relations18
Sent to prison18
Make a will18
Eligible to vote18
Full legal rights in contract18
Art (2) * Right to life
Art (3) * Forbidding of torture
Art (4) * Forbidding of slavery
Art (5) Right to liberty
Art (6) Right to a fair trail
Art (7) * Prohibition on retrospective criminal offences
Art (8) Right to respect for private and family life
Art (9) Freedom of thought and expression
Art (10) Freedom of expression
Art (11) Freedom of assembly and association
Art (12) Right to marry
Art (14)*Freedom from discrimination
*Are absolute, they cannot be interfered with, others can be restricted in certain circumstances (up to the government of the day).
The acts states that a public authority must act according to the rights given by the convention, any person who feels they have suffered a breach may sue that authority, as in the case of wrongful arrest or imprisonment, over the past number of years there have been many such cases of prisoners being released from prisons on these grounds, with large, often excessive as some might say, amounts of compensation paid to those released. A public authority includes courts, councils, tribunals but not parliament.
Under Article (12) Heterosexual people have the right to marry at 16 with judicial/parental consent and without consent at 18, this act enables such a union to bring with it certain safeguards, for example the rights associated with property, inheritance tax and tax relief. The security of marriage brings with it a stable family environment, and should one of the marriage die, the spouse will be safe knowing that their home will be safe under rights of inheritance. The security that heterosexual marriage brings does not apply to same sex couples or transsexuals, as, until the Civil Partnership Act 2004 comes into force, these rights do not apply. Once the Civil Partnership Act is enforced, same sex couples will be allowed to have a civil ceremony, after they have registered with their local town hall, and have a legally binding union, entitling same gender couples to the same rights. This gives both partners the security of knowing should anything happen, for instance the death of ones partner, the remaining partner will be secure in their home and future having the benefit of inheritance, as previously not allowed, which, at the moment is unfair to same sex partners who live in a stable relationship. Following the death of one of the partners, who dies without making a will, the other person could be made homeless as that person has no legal right to remain in the property as the deceased’s family can make a claim on the estate. Under the new legislation this will no longer be an issue.
Article (8) states The Right To Respect For Private and Family Life, which means that we have the peace of mind that whatever we do behind closed doors’ is private and should be respected as such. In most cases this is goes without any infringement, but there have been cases where there has been abuse in the family and provisions must and have been made to secure safety for one and all in the family home. We hear of too many cases of child deaths and abuse at the hands of parents and carers, where authorities have been unable to gain the proper access to these children and their abuse has gone undetected. The government can restrict this right if needed in exceptional circumstances, and rightly so. Also there have been a number of cases, mainly concerning sexual acts that have caused concern for the definition of this act and making sure they are within certain parameters. Anyone can have consensual sex, as long as age is not an issue, but there are boundaries that must be adhered to within that consent. What maybe classed as an over zealous bout of sadomasochism to one consenting couple, could be classed as actual bodily harm and assault, even torture and degradation to a judge and jury, therefore infringing human rights, as in the case of Simon Slingsby 1995 who accidentally injured his wife during sexual intercourse, causing her internal injuries, which later became septic and death followed. The murder charge he faced was later dropped to manslaughter where he was found guilty of committing a dangerous or unlawful act.
Britain has been governed by parliament for many centuries, each new parliament bringing with it new legislation in keeping with the demands of developing industry, and public and private citizens. These laws have kept Britain adequately ruled over the years, but there have been many breaches of citizen’s human rights. Since the Human Rights Act 1998 came into force, these rights have been upheld and maintained, with those who breach these rights paying the price through the courts. Acts of discrimination, for example racism and disability, have been largely ended, making society able to live in harmony with its neighbours.
English Legal System Elliot and Quinn 5th Edition.