What rights
do I have?

There are 16 rights in the Human Rights Act.

The rights in the Human Rights Act are called 'Articles'. In this section we will explain some of your human rights.

These are the ones which will usually be important in health and care services that you may use:

Right to life

Right to be free from inhuman and degrading treatment

Right to liberty

Right to respect for private and family life, home and correspondence

Right not to be discriminated against when relying on your other rights in the Human Rights Act

See a list of all 16 rights here.

Right to be free from inhuman and degrading treatment

This right is protected by Article 3 in the Human Rights Act.

How is my right relevant in health and social care settings?

1) This right protects against very serious harm, including abuse and neglect, such as:

  • Use of excessive force to restrain you
  • Physical or mental abuse
  • Lack of care or medication leading to extreme or long periods of pain or suffering
  • Leaving you in your own bodily waste for long periods
  • Lack of food or fluids leading to malnutrition or dehydration

2) When is treatment ‘inhuman or degrading’?
This is treatment which:

  • Makes you very frightened or worried
  • Causes you a lot of pain
  • Makes you feel worthless or hopeless

This right stops you from being treated like this.

To use the Human Rights Act to protect you against inhuman or degrading treatment, the treatment must be very serious. Less severe abuse which has a less serious impact on you is protected by your right to respect for private life.

Because everybody is different, what is inhuman and degrading treatment for one person might not be inhuman and degrading for another person. It all depends on each person and how treatment affects them.

So, public officials must think about things like:

  • Your age
  • Gender
  • Your mental health condition
  • Your mental capacity issue
  • How long you are experiencing such treatment

Article 3 in the Human Rights Act also protects against torture. Under the law, torture has a very specific definition and would very rarely apply to health and care services. Torture is when someone who works for the state deliberately causes severe physical or mental suffering to a person for a purpose (such as getting information out of the person).

Inhuman and degrading treatment, on the other hand, doesn’t have to be deliberate or for a purpose – it can be caused by neglect.

3) Can my right be restricted by health and social care services?

No. Public officials must not treat you in an inhuman or degrading way. This right is called an ‘absolute right’, which means it cannot be restricted or interfered with by public officials under any circumstances. This right protects against very serious abuse and neglect. It protects you from treatment that causes intense physical or mental suffering, or causes you to feel fear or anguish or extreme humiliation.

4) What duties do public officials have about my right to be free from inhuman or degrading treatment:

To RESPECT your right
This means not treating you in an inhuman or degrading way.

To PROTECT your right
This means taking reasonable steps to protect you when public officials know (or should know) that you are at real risk of inhuman or degrading treatment. This risk could be from another official or other people like your family or a patient, or from yourself (for example if you have suicidal thoughts whilst in the case of services).

To FULFIL your right
This means investigating when officials may have been involved in inhuman or degrading treatment or failed to act to prevent such treatment whilst you are in the care of services.

5) Further information
If you would like more information on the right to freedom from inhuman and degrading treatment and how it works in mental health or mental capacity settings, please look at pages 15-17 of our booklet ‘Mental Health, Mental Capacity: My human rights’.

If you are representing someone, e.g. as an advocate, you may also wish to look at pages 12-13 of our booklet, ‘Mental Health, Mental Capacity and Human Rights: A practitioner’s guide’.

Real Life Human Rights Story without Court Action

Older woman protected from abuse in care home

Elsie was in her 70s and had a learning disability and communication difficulties. She was living in an approved care home and her care was funded by the local authority. Elsie had an advocate, Joshua, who had been supporting her to take back control of her finances and open a bank account in her own name. Elsie told Joshua that the care home was forcing her to go to church, and that she didn’t want to go.

During this visit, Joshua also spotted bruises on Elsie’s arms. Joshua had human rights training from BIHR and recognised that this was about Elsie’s right to be free from abuse. Elsie told Joshua she was being abused by the manager owner of the care home. Joshua raised this with his manager and social services were alerted, as well as the Care Quality Commission. As a result, the care home was investigated.

(Real life example from BIHR’s Care and Support project)

Challenging inadequate housing for a disabled woman and her family. An advocacy example, without court action.

Balbir is 48 years old. She lives in a small council house with her two teenage sons. She suffered a major stroke, leaving her with severe physical disabilities. She is no longer able to use the stairs to reach her bedroom or bathroom, she is confined to the ground floor of her home. The local authority refused to build Balbir a downstairs bathroom and toilet. They said Balbir could strip-wash in the kitchen and use the commode in her living room, which despite being the family’s main space for spending time together, had also become her bedroom. As Balbir has IBS, she was forced to rely on carers to come and empty the commode. Also, as a Muslim, she relied on her carers to bring her a bowl to perform ablution so she could pray, this made Balbir feel embarrassed and distressed. Balbir and her two sons live like this for over a year.

Balbir has been able to get help from a local advocacy service who were working with BIHR and had received training on human rights. Tim, an advocate from the service, visited Balbir to discuss her situation. After hearing her story he explained how her human rights may be relevant. They decided to write a letter to the local authority explaining that Balbir’s circumstances were humiliating and in danger of breaching the right to be free from degrading treatment, a right which the Human Rights Act says local authorities must not breach. As a result, the local authority decided to carry out an assessment of Balbir’s needs. This recommended that an accessible downstairs bathroom with a walk-in shower should be built, and the local authority made sure this happened. Balbir now lives comfortably in her home with her sons.

Real Life Human Rights Case from the Courts

Mental Health patient held in degrading conditions

Mandeep was arrested and detained by the police under the Mental Health Act after assaulting his aunt. He was held in the cell longer than the maximum allowed by the Mental Health Act (72 hours). During this time he repeatedly banged his head on the wall, drank from the toilet and smeared himself with faeces. When Mandeep was transferred to a clinic to get treatment he was diagnosed as suffering from a manic episode with psychotic features. He took a human rights case to court challenging the conditions and time in police detention. The court took into account the impact the detention conditions had on Mandeep, including the fact that he was in real need of appropriate psychiatric treatment. The court decided this breached Mandeep’s right to be free from inhuman and degrading treatment.

(MS v UK, 2012. We made up the name)