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When can a public authority interfere with your human rights?

In the UK, human rights are protected by the Human Rights Act 1998. The Human Rights Act gives effect to the human rights set out in the European Convention on Human Rights.

Public authorities must respect your human rights. But there are some situations where the Human Rights Act says it’s lawful for a public authority to interfere with your rights.

Read this page to find out more about when your human rights can be restricted.

Why can public authorities sometimes interfere with your human rights?

Human rights belong to everyone. This means sometimes your rights may conflict with someone else’s rights or with the interest of the wider community.

So your rights may have to be restricted to protect other people’s rights or the rights of the community. For example, your right to free speech may have to be restricted to protect someone else’s right to privacy.  

When can public authorities interfere with your human rights?

Limited rights

Some rights are limited. This means they can only be restricted in specific situations set out in the Human Rights Act.

For example, article 5 says it’s not a breach of your right to personal freedom if you’re detained following a criminal conviction or under mental health legislation and the correct procedure was followed.

Other rights may be restricted if it’s necessary to protect the rights of others.

Qualified rights

A public authority can sometimes interfere with your rights if it’s in the interest of the wider community or to protect other people’s rights. These rights are qualified.

The following rights are qualified:

  • article 8 - your right to respect for private and family life
  • article 9 - freedom to manifest your religion or belief
  • article 10  - freedom of expression
  • article 11 - freedom of assembly.

Qualified rights may need to be balanced against other people’s rights or the rights of the wider community to achieve a fair outcome. It’s the courts who decide how to balance these different interests.

When can a public authority interfere with a qualified right?

A public authority can only interfere with a qualified right if it’s allowed under the law. It must also show that it has a specific reason set out in the Human Rights Act for interfering with your rights. The Act calls these reasons a legitimate aim.

Examples of legitimate aims include:

  • the protection of other people’s rights
  • national security
  • public safety
  • the prevention of crime
  • the protection of health.

The interference must be no more than what's absolutely necessary to achieve one of the aims in the Act. The Human Rights Act says the interference must be necessary in a democratic society.

Example

Your school has told you not to wear a specific religious dress covering the whole body or jilbab at school as it doesn't conform to the school uniform policy. The school has a specific uniform for all Muslim pupils which was adopted after consultation with the Muslim community. This could be a breach of your right to manifest your religion under article 9.

However, the school could justify interfering with your right under article 9 by saying it’s necessary to protect the rights of others. Schools are allowed to adopt school uniform policies under the law. Protecting the rights of others is a legitimate aim. As there’s a specific uniform you could wear and which has been approved by your religious community, the interference wouldn’t be more than what was absolutely necessary to achieve the legitimate aim.

What rights can never be restricted?

Some rights can never be restricted. These rights are absolute. Absolute rights include:

  • your right not to be tortured or treated in an inhuman or degrading way
  • your right to hold religious and non-religious beliefs.

A public authority can never justify breaching an absolute right.

Next steps

Other useful information

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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