Ultimately, it is up to a court to decide whether or not the law has been broken in relation to human rights. However, there are very many situations which can be dealt with without recourse to a full legal proceeding. For example, in many circumstances, simply indicating to the organisation concerned (for example, your employer) that you feel that your human rights are being infringed may be sufficient for them to take the matter seriously enough to address your concerns with or without the support of your trade union or professional association. Indeed, in such matters, the advice and support of a trade union or professional association can be of great benefit. However, in those circumstances where it becomes necessary to resort to legal process, then this can occur in one of two ways. First, you may wish to make a claim in the courts under the Human Rights Act 1998. This would involve taking a civil action against the organisation concerned (the law applies to bodies known as ‘public authorities’ and would therefore not apply to all organisations). Such proceedings can be expensive, time-consuming and stressful, and so it is important to seek legal advice, either directly or through your trade union or of such body before proceeding. They will be able to advise you on whether it is wise to continue with your course of action and may be able to suggest alternative means of resolving the problem without recourse to the full weight of legal process. Alternatively, they will support you through what needs to be done in order to take the matter to court. Second, human rights issues can also be incorporated into other proceedings. For example, if you are in dispute with your employer and this leads to an employment tribunal, then human rights issues will also be taken into account as part of that procedure (because the tribunal counts as a ‘public authority’ – as do all tribunals and courts). Attempting to obtain justice in relation to our human rights can be difficult and complex at times. It is therefore important that you seek support, either informally through family and friends and so on, or more formally through a body such as a trade union or Citizen’s Advice Bureau – or preferably a combination of both formal and informal support. However, before we take any steps towards seeking redress, we need to be clear about the grounds on which we would wish to base any complaint. The law is quite specific about what constitutes human rights (as defined by the European Convention on Human Rights), and so we have to be clear about which specific right it is that we feel is being infringed. The law does not give a general, ‘blanket’ protection of rights, but rather identifies particular rights and freedoms. The implementation of the Human Rights Act 1998 in October 2000 was part of the Government’s desire to develop a culture of human rights. It has been a major step forward, but we have to recognise that we still have a long way to go yet. The new Act has made gaining justice much easier than was previously the case, but we should none the less recognise that justice will not always be guaranteed.
Neil’s website and blog are at www.neilthompson.info
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