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The Human Rights Act 1998

This advice applies to Scotland

In the UK, human rights are protected by the Human Rights Act 1998. Public authorities, like a local authority or the NHS, must follow the Act. If a public authority has breached your human rights, you may be able to take action under the Act.

Read this page to find out more about the Human Rights Act.

What’s the Human Rights Act 1998?

The Human Rights Act gives effect to the human rights set out in the European Convention on Human Rights. These rights are called Convention rights.

Examples of Convention or human rights include:

  • the right to life
  • the right to respect for private and family life
  • the right to freedom of religion and belief.

The Human Rights Act means you can take action in the UK courts if your human rights have been breached.

What’s the European Convention on Human Rights?

The European Convention on Human Rights protects the human rights of people in countries that belong to the Council of Europe. This includes the UK.  The Council of Europe is different from the European Union.

Who does the Human Rights Act protect?

The Human Rights Act protects everyone in the UK. It doesn’t matter if - for example, you’re a British citizen, a foreigner or an asylum seeker.

Who must follow the Human Rights Act?

Public authorities must follow the Human Rights Act.

They must respect and protect your human rights, unless there’s a law which prevents it. The Human Rights Act says they must act in a way which is compatible your human rights.

What’s a public authority?

A public authority is an organisation which provides public functions. This can be a public sector organisation, like a hospital, government department or the courts. Private organisations or charities which carry out public functions are also public authorities - for example, private prisons.

When must public authorities follow the Human Rights Act?

Public authorities must follow the Human Rights Act in everything they do. They must respect and protect your human rights when they make individual decisions about you. They must also follow the Human Rights Act when they plan services and make policies.

Taking positive steps to protect your human rights

Public authorities must not interfere with your human rights. Sometimes they must also take positive steps to protect your rights when your life is in danger or you’re threatened by other people.

For example, the police have a positive duty to protect you if they know your life is in danger from someone. If they don’t act to protect you they may breach article 2 which protects your right to life.

What can you do if a public authority has breached your human rights?

If a public authority has breached your human rights you can take action under the Human Rights Act. You can complain to the public authority or you may be able to take legal action in the courts.

What if a private organisation or person has breached your human rights?

Only public authorities have obligations under the Human Rights Act. You can’t take action against other people or private organisations because they’ve breached your human rights.  

But if you take court action against someone for some other reason - for example, a claim for unfair dismissal against your employer, the courts can look at whether your human rights have also been breached. This is because courts are also public authorities and they must take account of human rights in all cases they hear.

Next steps

Other useful information

The European Convention on Human Rights

You can access the European Convention on Human Rights on the European Court of Human Rights website at

Equality Advisory Support Service (EASS)

The EASS helpline can provide advice and information on human rights and discrimination issues.

Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)

You can find useful information about discrimination on the EHRC website at

Scottish Human Rights Commission

You can find more information on human rights on the website of the Scottish Human Rights Commission at

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