Yousif Shami discusses 10 of the most important human rights cases and the importance of knowing your rights.
The law of the United Kingdom is a complicated mechanism made up of centuries of precedent, legal thought, and political development; acts of parliament, case law, regulations, treaties, bylaws – why should we students care? A recent survey by Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) found that nearly a fifth of Scottish workers don’t know their employment rights at all. Yet despite this, it remains incredibly important and knowing your rights in our parliamentary democracy can mean everything for some. So, no matter where you’re from, what you believe in, or how you choose to live your life, here are 10 of the most important human rights cases every student should know about.
#1 Police must investigate rape claims
In DSD (known as the ‘black cab rapist’ case), two women complained to the police about sexual assault by a taxi driver. It turned out he had raped and/or assaulted 100 women yet was not brought to justice. The women eventually won their claim that they suffered degrading treatment because the police failed to act – they have a positive duty to investigate serious offences committed by individual perpetrators under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
#2 Employers must respect religious beliefs
In Eweida, Nadia Eweida, a British Airways employee, was prevented from wearing a visible Christian cross with her uniform. Since it was discreet and didn’t negatively affect her ability to do her job, she won her case – her right to religious freedom under Article 3 of the ECHR had been violated which led to BA changing their policy.
#3 Police stop and search powers aren’t limitless
In Gillan and Quinton, two protesters were stopped and searched by the police without any grounds for suspicion. Ultimately, this was held as a violation of their right to privacy under Article 8 of the ECHR which led to the UK government having to review its broader anti-terrorism law.
#4 Authorities must do all they can to protect vulnerable/potential suicide victims
In Savage, a woman's mother died whilst detained as a mental health patient. The court held that there’s a positive duty on health authorities to take reasonable measures to prevent mental health patients from dying by suicide. Similarly, in Rabone, it was held that a hospital should have done more to prevent the suicide of Melanie Rabone, a voluntary mental health patient. She was at an immediate risk of suicide, so the hospital had a duty to protect her right to life. Both cases relate to Article 2 of the ECHR.
#5 Trans people can marry who they like
In Christine Goodwin, a male to female trans person was still considered male by the state, so couldn't marry a man. This was a violation of her right to privacy and family life under Article 8 of the ECHR. As a result, Parliament later passed the Gender Recognition Act 2004 which legally recognises trans as members of their identified gender.
#6 The police have a duty to protect our right to life
In Osman, a teacher stalked a pupil and ended up killing his father. The family sued the police for failure to protect the family after being repeatedly told of such threats. The court held that in certain circumstances the police could be liable for failing to protect. Although unfortunate, thanks to the Osmans, police now issue “Osman warnings” to people in danger, telling them how to get protection.
#7 Being gay is not a crime
Although parliament decriminalised homosexuality in 1967, in Dudgeon, an Irish man had been interrogated by the local police on his sexual activities. He was gay and "homosexual acts" remained criminalised in Northern Ireland until 1982. Ultimately, he won his case as his right to privacy (Article 8) and not to be discriminated against (Article 14) had been breached. As a result, Northern Ireland later decriminalised homosexuality.
#8 Offensive ideas need to be protected too
In Handyside, Richard Handyside was prosecuted for publishing The Little Red Book, which encouraged children to rebel against social norms. Since it encouraged children to commit potentially harmful activities, his right to freedom of expression was not violated and its censorship was justified. However, the court famously held that freedom of expression applies not just to likeable ideas but also the offensive, shocking, or disturbing.
#9 Councils must provide adequate accommodation for the disabled
In Bernard, a severely disabled, wheelchair-bound and incontinent woman and her family of eight were housed inadequately. Their local council failed to rehouse despite being ordered by a court to do so. The court held this showed a “singular lack of respect” for her private and family life under Article 8 and awarded damages.
#10 Bouncers must treat all clubgoers equally
We’ve all heard stories of mates being rejected at the doors for arbitrary reasons. In DSTRKT, a group of women, despite being invited by the club’s promoter, claimed two of them were turned away for being “too dark” and “overweight”. Disgraceful and illegal. Under the Equality Act 2010, when someone provides you a service, assuming you’ve done nothing wrong, you must not be discriminated against based on “protected characteristics” such as race, disability, gender reassignment, sexual orientation, age and religion.