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The Human Rights Act 1998

The Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA) incorporates the rights and freedoms set out in the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law. The rights protected include right to a fair hearing (article 6), right to privacy (article 8), freedom of speech (article 10), and prohibition of discrimination (article 14).

One of the key points to note from an equality perspective is that Article 14 (freedom from discrimination) does not provide a general right to freedom from discrimination, this right is linked to the enjoyment of the other rights i.e. they must be provided without discrimination. Article 14 suggests grounds which are protected from discrimination as follows “sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status” however this is not an exhaustive list so issues like disability, sexual orientation or others would be covered by “or other status”. This also leaves scope for the article to be re-interpreted as society changes.

Some of the rights in the HRA are absolute, however most are qualified or limited rights. One of the keys changes which the HRA made to UK law was to extend the definition of reasonableness when considering actions which a public body should / should not take. When considering any action or inaction a public body must now be able to show that it will be proportionate.

Section 6 of the HRA makes it unlawful for a public authority to act in a way which is incompatible with a Convention right, this includes prohibiting discrimination. A public authority includes a court and any person who exercises functions of a public nature, for example, the police, hospitals, schools, local authorities etc.

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