Human Rights Act 1998

The Human Rights Act 1998, an Act of Parliament, incorporates the rights set down in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) into UK law. Specifically, it requires that public authorities act in accordance with the rights in Articles 2-12 and 14 of the Convention, Articles 1-3 of the First Protocol, and Article 1 of the Thirteenth Protocol, as read with Articles 16-18 of the Convention (section 6).  Courts must interpret statues to give effect to them (s.3).

Ministers must certify whether bills introduced into Parliament are compliant with the Convention rights, including the ‘Right to Respect for Private life, home and correspondence’ in Article 8 of the ECHR. Senior UK courts may declare that a statute is incompatible with a Convention right – it is then for Parliament to decide whether to change the law to remedy this incompatibility, with a fast-track mechanism for amendment of the statute. Yet until this happens, the declaration alone “does not affect the validity, continuing operation or enforcement of the provision in respect of which it is given” (s.4).

Article 6 (1) of the Human Rights Act, requiring “public authorities to act compatibly with Convention rights”, was held by the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) in the 2004 case British-Irish Rights Watch and others v Security Service, GCHQ and the SIS to add a further safeguard to the infringement of privacy through the use of powers outlined in RIPA. However, the IPT is not one of the “senior courts” that under the Human Rights Act may make a declaration of incompatibility of UK law with the ECHR.

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