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Human Rights Act (HRA)

AS, A-Level
AQA, Edexcel, OCR, IB

Last updated 22 Mar 2021

The 1998 Human Rights Act (HRA) is an Act of Parliament that aimed to incorporate into UK law the rights contained in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). It received Royal Assent in November 1998, and mostly came into force in October 2000. The Act creates a remedy for a breach of the ECHR available in the UK courts, without the need to go to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

The most important purpose of the Act is that it makes it unlawful for any public body to act in a way incompatible with the ECHR, unless the wording of any other primary legislation provides no other choice. The judiciary needs to take account of any decisions, judgments or opinions of the European Court of Human Rights and to interpret legislation in a way compatible with Convention rights.

Should it not be possible to interpret an Act of Parliament to make it compatible with the Convention, the judges cannot override it. Instead, they can issue a declaration of incompatibility.

The HRA seeks to maintain the principle of Parliamentary Sovereignty, in that a declaration of incompatibility does not affect the validity of the Act of Parliament. Judges may, however, strike down secondary legislation. Furthermore, the Act gives individuals the right to sue in the Strasbourg Court.

The current Conservative government has been criticising the Human Rights Act since 2007, and its manifesto for the 2015 election gives it a mandate to seek to replace it with a ‘British Bill of Rights’.

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