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What has the Human Rights Act done for women?

For decades the Human Rights Act has helped women access their rights. As Justice Secretary Liz Truss confirms that the government will go ahead with plans to scrap it we take a closer look at the freedoms the Act has helped to secure for women.

Don’t let the UK Government roll back our rights – save the Human Rights Act

What is the Human Rights Act? The European Convention on Human Rights was created shortly after World War II. The UK was the first state to sign up to the treaty, which was perhaps unsurprising, since the majority of the terms were drafted by British legal experts.

The UK government then signed the Human Rights Act into law, effective from 2000 onwards. The Act was designed to ensure the human rights guaranteed in international law by the European Convention would also be applied in domestic British law.

Now, each time a new law is proposed, the government must consider how it is compatible with our human rights, and laws made before 1998 must be reinterpreted to respect human rights as far as possible. Additionally, the public sector – for example courts, schools and councils – must factor human rights into any decisions they make.

If an authority fails to do this, the HRA enables people to seek justice from a court in the UK, rather than having to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. In most instances, this is not necessary and an agreement is reached about how to protect the person’s rights. This process can result in better policies, which benefit communities and even the country as a whole.

A vital safeguard

The Human Rights Act has been used by women’s rights defenders in many cases where women’s and girl’s rights have been violated.

The act has played a key role in ensuring the fair treatment of older women in care homes. In family law, it has been used to secure stronger protections for domestic violence survivors and to appeal against unfair custody decisions. And it provides a vital safeguard for vulnerable asylum seekers who would otherwise be afforded little protection.

When it was revealed that a number of undercover police officers had begun relationships with the women they were investigating, and in some cases had children with them, the women were able to seek justice on the grounds of the Human Rights Act. This has, in part, led to the creation of a new set of guidelines for police officers, stating what they can and cannot do during undercover operations.

Perhaps most significantly, the HRA has been used to secure justice for rape victims in instances when police investigations have been poorly handled. This can be seen in the case of the ‘Black Cab Rapist’, where many victims received compensation from Scotland Yard because of police failures in the investigation.

Keeping a family together

This vital legislation has helped change women’s lives. The Human Rights Act helped Amy* and her children find a safe home together when they fled her abusive husband.

Everywhere they went, Amy’s husband tracked them down, forcing the family to move many times. One of these moves brought them to London, where the local social services told Amy she was an unfit parent. They argued that she was moving house without justification and making the family intentionally homeless.

Facing the prospect of her children being taken into care, Amy sought help from an advice worker. They argued that the social services department was breaching her human rights, according to the Human Rights Act. The department agreed, and the family was able to stay together.

Do the Human Right thing Many of us are fortunate enough never to have had to call on the Human Rights Act, so we’re unaware of the protections provided to us by this key aspect of the law.

Do the Human Right thing: join us in calling on Liz Truss to save the Human Rights Act.

Read more about the freedoms the Human Rights Act has helped secure for everyone in the UK.

*Amy’s name has been changed to protect her identity.

About Amnesty UK Blogs
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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