Study Notes

Human Rights (UK)

Level:
AS, A Level
Board:
AQA, Edexcel, OCR, IB

Last updated 22 Mar 2021

Human rights are norms or moral principles describing certain standards of human behaviour, and thus protected as legal rights in national and international law. Human rights are those inalienable fundamental rights to which a person should be entitled because he or she is a human being, regardless of their nation, language, religion, location, ethnic origin or other status.

Human rights should be the same for everyone, requiring empathy and the rule of law, imposing an obligation on people to respect others’ human rights. They would only be taken away through due process based on specific circumstances – such as through a fair criminal trial.

The concept of human rights provokes a fair deal of controversy over their content, nature and justification. There is disagreement over which rights should be seen as included in a general global framework of rights – some feeling they should be a minimum requirement to avoid the worst-case abuses such as protection against enslavement and genocide, and some seeing human rights as a higher standard, such as those to free speech and education.

Despite the concept of ‘natural rights’, the true forerunner of human rights, becoming prominent during the 17th and 18th century during the Enlightenment and the French and American revolutions, it wasn’t until the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948 that human rights became a precondition for the possibility of a just society.

The key application of this to A-level politics relates to the way in which the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) is incorporated into British Law. Although the UK signed the original treaty in 1950 that created the ECHR, it wasn’t incorporated into British Law until 2000, when it was part of the Human Rights Act (HRA) in the UK. This means that UK Supreme Court judges are often asked to rule on whether bills or laws created in the UK breach the HRA. Even if they rule that it doesn’t, this can be appealed in the European Court of Human Rights. An example of this is the debate over the automatic and blanket ban on prisoners voting in elections.

Parliament is still sovereign, in that it still has the right to ‘derogate from’ (ignore) the ECHR – for instance in matters relating to national security. But in general when judges have issued a statement of incompatibility, Parliament has agreed to change the law

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