So long as the United Kingdom has no state constitution, the rights and duties of the UK citizens are fixed in a great number of various acts. Basic civil rights, nevertheless, have no statement and the Parliament is not prevented from restricting them. In 1951 The United Kingdom ratified the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and from 1966 the citizens of the UK received the opportunity to bring their individual petitions to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasburg. However, the provisions of the ECHR had not been incorporated into the UK law by that moment.
The ECHR was adopted by the Council of Europe in 1950. The Convention embraces three types of rights: absolute rights, limited rights and qualified rights. Absolute rights cannot be restricted at any circumstances (these are the right to life and prohibition of torture, for example), while limited rights (the right to liberty and security of person as well as right to a fair trial) have specified restrictions and qualified rights (regarding respect of private and family life, freedom of thought, conscience and religion) are restricted to certain situations (Ovey and Robin 58). The main articles of the ECHR have been complemented with fifteen protocols. Among other international human rights agreements, the European Convention is considered to provide the highest degree of individual protection.
The UK legislation conflicted much with the ECHR, so by the end of 1990s it was clear there was a need to incorporate the Convention into the UK law. As for the reference to court, the procedure had been too complicated, expensive, long and controversial until the human rights were brought to the jurisdiction of the UK courts. Thus, the Human Rights Act (HRA) was adopted in 1998.
The Human Rights Act 1998 contained the following rights:
- Right to life (Article 2)
- Prohibition of torture (Article 3)
- Prohibition of slavery and forced labour (Article 4)
- Right to liberty and security (Article 5)
- Right to a fair trial (Article 6)
- No punishment without law (Article 7)
- Right to respect for private and family life (Article 8)
- Freedom of thought, conscience and religion (Article 9)
- Freedom of expression (Article 10)
- Freedom of assembly and association (Article 11)
- Right to marry (Article 12)
- Prohibition of discrimination (Article 13)
- Protection of property (Article 1 of Protocol 1)
- Right to education (Article 2 of Protocol 2)
- Right to free elections (Article 3 of Protocol 1)
- Abolition of the death penalty (Article 1 of Protocol 6).
“The incompatible provision remains in force until it is amended by ministerial order,”¯ Keenan and Riches (37) state. It is significant to note that Convention rights can be enjoyed only by individuals, not by public authorities. Still, non-governmental hybrid authorities can have the status of victims if they act in a private nature. The Human Rights Act 1998 made the human rights more accessible for the citizens of the United Kingdom. “The Government intended the Human Rights Act 1998 to place human rights at the heart of the way public services are delivered,”¯ Phillipson (726) notes.
In this way, the Human Rights Act 1998 has incorporated all the principle rights of the European Convention on Human Rights for the citizens of the United Kingdom.