Skip to main content

Human Rights Law Research Guide: United Kingdom

A good place to start....

Halsbury's Laws of England (volume 88A 2013) RIGHTS AND FREEDOMS on LexisNexis AU (UniMelb staff and student access) is a good starting point for your research into UK human rights law. Halsbury's provides up to date commentary and links to relevant legislation and significant cases.

To get there, scroll to Rights and Freedoms in the alphabetical list, then click the + buttons to browse to more specific topics or tick the boxes and search the content.

UK Human Rights Legislative Framework

Information about the legislative history of human rights in the UK.

The key legislative source of human rights in the UK is the Human Rights Act 1998 c. 42

The Human Rights Act gives legal effect in the UK to many fundamental rights and freedoms contained in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The Act makes the ECHR part of the law of the UK, so people in the UK can complain in UK courts about a contravention of their Convention rights by public authorities.

An individual who has sought a remedy UK courts and who is dissatisfied with the outcome can pursue a remedy at the European Court of Human Rights.

The Human Rights Act is administered by the UK Ministry of Justice.

For a detailed and up to date analysis of the Human Rights Act, and references to key cases interpreting the provisions of the Act, see Westlaw UK's Human Rights Insight (UniMelb staff and student access only).

Brief information about the Human Rights Act, the rights and freedoms it protects, and its relationship with the ECHR.

See also:

  • 'Is There a Fundamental Tension at the Heart of the Human Rights Act?' by Tamas Gyorfi (June 14, 2017) Full text available on SSRN (open access).
  • 'Does Every Cloud Have a Silver Lining?: Brexit, Repeal of the Human Rights Act and the Northern Ireland Bill of Rights' by Anne Smith et al (2016) 40(1) Fordham International Law Journal. Full text available on SSRN (open access).
  • 'The Human Rights Act Should Not Be Repealed' by Conor A Gearty, LSE Law - Policy Briefing Paper No 16 (7 Sept 2016). Full text article available on SSRN (open access) 
  • 'The Legal Implications of a Repeal of the Human Rights Act 1998 and Withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights' by Kanstantsin Dzehtsiarou et al (12 May 2015). Full text article available on SSRN (open access)

Other human rights acts are:

The Equality Act 2010 c. 15

The Equality Act prohibits discrimination in areas such as employment, education and services on the basis of age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership; pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, or sexual orientation ('protected characteristics').

The  Equality and Human Rights Commission is the regulatory body that enforces the Equality Act

More information about the Equality Act.

The Modern Slavery Act 2015 c. 30

The Modern Slavery Act prohibits slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour, and human trafficking. The Act creates the office of the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner, a Home Office monitoring body.

UK Human Rights Cases & Tribunal Decisions

We recommend using Westlaw UK (UniMelb staff and students only) to find human rights decisions in UK courts.

CASES ON SPECIFIC PROVISIONS OF UK HUMAN RIGHTS LEGISLATION IN UK COURTS 

  1. Use the Legislation tab in Westlaw UK to navigate to the specific piece of legislation eg: the Human Rights Act.
  2. Click on the hyperlinked section number, and then select either 'Key Cases Citing' or 'All Cases Citing' from the blue left hand menu.
  3. Clicking on a case will take you to the Case Analysis - this includes a digest, summary and abstract. To see the full text of the case, click on 'Official Transcript' - this is the unreported version. Under the 'Where Reported' heading, all series of reports containing the case are cited. If the report series is available on Westlaw UK, the citation will be hyperlinked.
  4. TIP: for citation purposes, if the case is reported in the Law Reports, the UK's authorised reports series which comprises Appeal Cases, Chancery, Queens Bench and Family, this version must be used. The Law Reports are only available on the ICLR Online platform. For more information on UK authorised reports, and the citing priority of report series, see the Authorised Reports box in the cases tab on the UK Research guide, and the UK tab on the Authorised Reports Research Guide.

CASES ON A TOPIC IN UK COURTS

  1. Use the Cases tab in Westlaw UK and select Advanced Search.
  2. Click 'List of Terms' under the Subject Keyword field and select 'Click here to view the subject hierarchy'. You will see an alphabetical list of topics. Click Human Rights and you will see a list of specific human rights topics, eg: Inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Copy and paste the term into the Subject/Keyword box and click 'search' to see all the cases on this topic.

HAS A UK CASE BEEN HEARD IN THE EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS (ECtHR)? 

All cases that are appealed from UK courts to the ECtHR have the UK as a named party.

A. Use Westlaw UK to find the case - by the name of the individual who would have appealed the decision to the ECtHR.

  • click on Case Analysis and scroll to Appellate History & Status - this will provide the litigation history, including whether the case has been appealed to the ECtHR - if so, citations to the ECtHR decision are provided.

  • Note: It may take several years for the UK decision to come before the ECtHR. Westlaw does not include the most recent ECtHR decisions, so if a ECtHR  decision is not included in the Appellate History & Status, you can double check on the HUDOC case law database, which is completely up to date. 

B.  Use the HUDOC case law database on the European Court of Human Right's website.

Either:

  1. Use the Case Title box on the Advanced Search screen to either look for a specific case by party name, or type United Kingdom in this box to see all cases in which the UK is a party; or
  2. Type the name of a piece of UK legislation in the Domestic Law box on the Advanced Search screen eg: Human Rights Act 1998. This will find all cases concerning this Act. Useful 'Legal Summaries' are given for many cases.

Finding a reported version of an ECtHR decision 

The cases on the HUDOC database are unreported. Not all cases are subsequently reported. If you need to check for a reported version for citation purposes, look for the ECtHR case in the Cases tab on Westlaw UK eg: Ali v United Kingdom - it will provide parallel citations listed in authority order - for example:

Links are provided to law report series in Westlaw UK. 

Some of the report series listed above contain cases from the ECtHR only - for example, the European Human Rights Reports ('EHRR' - on Westlaw UK); some also contain reports of cases from domestic courts - for example Butterworths Human Rights Cases ('BHRC'on Lexis.com) also contains significant cases from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the UK, Ireland and South Africa; and some are UK domestic law report series - for instance, the Entertainment and Media Law Reports ('EMLR' - on Westlaw UK).

If a series is in the Westlaw UK 'where reported' list but not hyperlinked, the series is not available on Westlaw UK. To find the full title of the report series abbreviation so you can check the catalogue for holdings, use the Law Library's Legal Abbreviations webpage.

UK Human Rights Blogs

The UK Human Rights blog covers UK and European human rights cases.

Loading

London School of Economics Human Rights Blog

Loading

The Oxford Human Rights Hub Blog from the University of Oxford promotes dialogue between human rights researchers, practitioners and policy-makers from around the world. Original contributions on recent human rights law developments across the globe, including case law, current litigation, legislation, policy-making and activism are welcome.

RightsInfo - founded by leading barrister Adam Wagner, RightsInfo is about using social media to find new ways to talk about and deliver human rights stories and information.

Finding Journal Articles on UK Human Rights Law

To find UK and European academic / scholarly journal articles on UK human rights law, irrespective of the journal in which they are published, we recommend using Legal Journals Index (LJI) on Westlaw UK (UniMelb staff and student access).

UK Human Rights Journals

Joint Select Committee on Human Rights

The Joint Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights consists of members appointed from both the House of Commons and the House of Lords, to examine matters relating to human rights within the United Kingdom (excluding consideration of individual cases). 

The Committee's work includes scrutinising every Government Bill for its compatibility with human rights, including:

  • The rights under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) protected in UK law by the Human Rights Act 1998
  • Common law fundamental rights and liberties
  • The human rights contained in other international obligations of the UK

UK compliance with its ECHR Obligations

Equality and Human Rights Commission reports

Human Rights Review 2012 - this is a comprehensive review of the UK's success in meeting its human rights obligations under the European Convention of Human Rights. It was the first review of its kind since the Human Rights Act came into force in 2000 and applied the Convention rights to UK domestic law.

Is Britain Fairer? This 2015 report measures the UK's success in ensuring equality of opportunity, freedom from discrimination and the protection of fundamental rights.

For information on the European regional human rights system, see the European page under the Regional tab.

International Law and UK Domestic Law

The UK follows a dualist approach with respect to the domestic effect of international treaties. This is similar in approach to other Commonwealth countries such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The dualist system means that in order for the treaty obligations to be given the force of law domestically, the UK cannot simply become a party to the treaty - the treaty must be incorporated into domestic legislation (Maclaine Watson & Co Ltd v Department of Trade and Trade and Industry [1990] 2 AC 418, 474-5). An example of incorporation of a human rights treaty into UK domestic legislation is the Human Rights Act 1998 c. 42, which gives legal effect in the UK to many fundamental rights and freedoms contained in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). 

When the UK is a party to a treaty but  has not implemented this domestically by statute, there is a 'prima facie presumption that Parliament does not intend to act in breach of international law', so in cases of ambiguity, the treaty obligations are presumed to prevail (Salomon v Commissioners of Customs and Excise [1967] 2 QB 116, 143-4 (Diplock LJ)). See also Eirik Bjorge, 'Can Unincorporated Treaty Obligations Be Part of English Law?' (April 19 2017) University of Oslo Faculty of Law Research Paper No. 2017-18 (open access).

See also Veronika Fikfak, 'English Courts and the "Internalisation" of the European Convention of Human Rights?: Between Theory and Practice' [2015] 5 UK Supreme Court Annual Review 188-222 (open access).

See also the UK chapter in:

UN Treaties - UK Ratification Status and Reservations

Monitoring UK compliance with international human rights obligations - reports from the UK, UN and Civil Society

REPORTS TO AND BY THE UN

UN Treaty Body Reports

The UK is required to submit periodic reports to the UN on its implementation of and compliance with each of the seven core UN human rights treaties it has ratified. The UK's Reports to the United Nations can be found on:

  • the The Monitoring and Promoting UN Treaties page on the UK Equality and Human Rights Commission's website -contains UK reports, UN Committee concluding observations and other documentation; and
  • The UN Ratification, Reporting & Documentation website  - contains the UK's reports, UN Committee observations, comments, conclusions and recommendations, and NHRI and Civil Society submissions and shadow reports.

Universal Periodic Review

The UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a review of the human rights records of all UN Member States, undertaken by the UN Human Rights CouncilIt involves review of the human rights records of all 192 UN Member States once every four years. Review under the UPR does not depend on a country being a party to a particular human rights treaty. UK Reports can be viewed on the Documents database.

The UK Country Report includes information on the latest Universal Periodic Review, and the status of the country in relation to UN Charter based bodies and Treaty bodies.

The UN Universal Human Rights Index provides access to country-specific human rights information emanating from international human rights mechanisms in the United Nations system: the Treaty Bodies, the Special Procedures and the Universal Periodic Review (UPR).

CIVIL SOCIETY MONITORING REPORTS

Amnesty International Annual Country Reports

  • See the latest report for the UK

Human Rights Watch annual  World Reports 

Freedom House's Freedom in the World - an annual study of political rights and civil liberties  

  • See the latest report on the UK

US DEPARTMENT OF STATE REPORTS

US Department of State annual Human Rights Reports 

  • See the latest report on the UK

Human Rights ranking in the Rule of Law Index

In the latest Rule of Law Index from the World Justice Project, the UK ranked 14th out of 102 countries for its adherence to protection of fundamental human rights. See the UK statistics on the Rule of Law website. 

The factors taken into account in assessing the UK's human rights rank are those established under the Universal Declaration :

  • effective enforcement of laws that ensure equal protection; 
  • the right to life and security of the person;
  • due process of law and the rights of the accused;
  • freedom of opinion and expression;
  • freedom of belief and religion;
  • the right to privacy;
  • freedom of assembly and association; and
  • fundamental labor rights, including the right to collective bargaining, the prohibition of forced and child labor, and the elimination of discrimination.  

See the full Rule of Law Index for all countries here.

 

Recent print & e-books