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 respect for private and family life, home and correspondence

This right is protected by Article 8 in the Human Rights Act.

An important part of this right is making sure your choices are respected. This right will be relevant to your life in lots of ways. There are four parts, which are each explained below.

1) How is my right to respect for private life relevant in health and social care settings?

Some examples of what this right protects:

  • Your private information, including the right to access your personal information and to have that information kept confidential.
  • Your wellbeing, which means being free from abuse or neglect (remember that protection from very serious abuse or neglect is covered by your right to be free from inhuman and degrading treatment)
  • Having control over your own body and life and being able to participate in decisions about your care and treatment. This is sometimes called having autonomy. This also includes consent to medical treatment (except if you are details under the Mental Health Act and the hospital can show there is a ‘medical necessity’ for the treatment).
  • Being able to participate in the life of your community. For example, being able to socialise with others and not be secluded without good reason.

2) How is my right to respect for family life relevant in health and social care settings?

Some examples of what this right protects:

  • Developing family relationships. For example, if you have been detained or live in care and you are prevented from developing relationships with people, or having a say over your choice of partner.
  • Contact with your family. For example, being detained or placed in care which means you cannot see your family.

3) How is my right to respect for home relevant in health and social care settings?
This is not a right to housing, but a right to respect for the home you already have.

Some examples of what this right protects:

  • Places you consider to be your home, such as a care home or hospital ward, if you have been living there for a long time and have established a connection to that place.
  • Being removed from somewhere you live to received care or health services when you’ve been promised it is your ‘home for life’, for example if your care home is being closed.

4) How is my right to respect for correspondence relevant in health and social care settings?

Some examples of what this right protects:

  1. Being able to communicate with people (including by letter, email etc)
  2. Having private communication. However, the Mental Health Act allows your mail to be withheld and inspected during detention, but only if the authorities can show it meets the test for restricting this right. This test requires the authorities to have a legitimate reason (e.g. for your safety or hospital security) and for them to act in a proportionate way. We explain this test in more detail in the next question.

5) What duties do public officials have about my right to respect for private life, family life, home and correspondence?

To RESPECT your right
This means not interfering with your right as far as possible.

To PROTECT your right
This means public officials sometimes have to take steps to protect your right where they know it is at risk, for example supporting you to make sure you can participate in decisions about your care. The legal term for this is a ‘positive obligation’.

To FULFIL your right
This means when decisions are being made about your care and treatment that these are made fairly.

6) Further information
If you would like more information on the right to respect for private and family life, home and correspondence and how it works in mental health or mental capacity settings, please look at pages 22-27 of our booklet 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 17-19 of our booklet, ‘Mental Health, Mental Capacity and Human Rights: A practitioner’s guide’.

Real Life Human Rights Story without Court Action

Young woman moved closer to family home

Nina, a young woman with mental health issues, lived in an adolescent unit close to her family. When she turned 18 Nina was moved to an adult facility, but the only bed available was 200 miles away. Nina’s mum and grandma now had to take turns visiting. Nina’s two younger brothers were too young to travel so far. Nina didn’t see them for over a year and was very distressed by this. She began self-harming.

Nina’s Independent Mental Health Advocate, Robert, had been trained by BIHR. Robert arranged a meeting with the social worker and explained that this was interfering with Nina’s right to family life. The social worker was pleased to hear that she might be able to use Nina’s rights to get this resolved.
The social worker and Robert together wrote to Commissioners to challenge Nina’s placement, using her right to family life.

They pointed out that the CCG weren’t doing all they could to protect this right.

Within a few days the CCG sent a different doctor to assess Nina. Two weeks later Nina was transferred to a unit within 40 miles of her family. It was close enough for her brothers to visit and for Nina to have home visits, so she was much happier.

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

Woman with dementia retains relationship with partner

Erin was in her late 70s and affected by dementia. She lived in a care home. Her partner, Patrick, visited her regularly. During a visit Patrick was seen touching Erin in a sexual way. Staff were concerned and raise it with the local authority, who began a safeguarding enquiry.

Erin was assessed as having capacity to decide if she wanted to have contact with Patrick (including kissing and hugging) but not sexual contact. Erin’s friend was pressing the local authority to restrict Patrick’s visits.
Erin’s Care Act Advocate, Laticia, supported her through the enquiry. Laticia had been trained by BIHR and knew this was about Erin’s right to family life. Laticia had seen the positive impact the relationship with Patrick appeared to have on Erin.

Laticia met the social worker conducting the enquiry. The social worker agreed that Erin’s right to family life was engaged and took this into account during her enquiry. It concluded that the local authority would not prevent Patrick from visiting Erin and that the care home staff would not intervene if they kiss and hug.
(Real life example from BIHR’s Care and Support project)
In real life: Right to respect for home and correspondence

Real Life Human Rights Case from the Courts

Medical correspondence between patients and doctors kept private

Edward was 46 years old and serving a prison sentence. Prior to his imprisonment he suffered a brain haemorrhage and underwent surgery. He needed constant monitoring and had to go to hospital every 6 months for a check-up with a specialist. The prison doctor opened and read the letters between Edward and his specialist on the orders of the prison governor.

Edward wanted his medical communications to remain private, and took a human rights case to court to challenge this. The court decided that communications between patients and doctors deserve special protection because of the risk that might be posed to a patient’s life if they do not feel that they can be open with a doctor.

As Edward only wanted to correspond with a single doctor, the prison could easily take steps to verify the identity of the doctor. The court decided that reading Edward’s medical correspondence was a disproportionate interference with his right to respect for correspondence. It was agreed that the doctor would clearly mark the envelope of his correspondence with Edward to allow the prison to identify it as private.

(Szuluk v UK, 2009)

Forced medication of people detained under the Mental Health Act would have to be shown to be a ‘medical necessity’

Mr Wilkinson was a 69 year old patient at a high-security psychiatric unit who had been diagnosed as suffering from a psychiatric disorder. His psychiatrist decided he needed to be treated with antipsychotic medication, which Mr Wilkinson vigorously opposed.

He was physically restrained and forcibly injected with the drugs. Mr Wilkinson took a human rights case to the court to challenge this. The court said a decision to impose treatment on a protesting patient without consent could potentially be inhuman or degrading treatment (protected by Article 3, see page 15) or interfere with the right to respect for private life which protects wellbeing. The court decided that Mr Wilkinson should have a full hearing where the doctor who made the decision would have to show that the treatment was a ‘medical necessity’. This means it must have a substantial benefit for the patient.

(R (Wilkinson) v Broadmoor Hopsital, 2001)