Human Rights Act, The

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Human Rights Act, The The introduction to the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA) describes it as “an Act to give greater effect to rights and freedoms guaranteed under the European Convention on Human Rights” (also known as the Convention).

As health-care professionals, nurses have a duty to protect the human rights of their patients. Not only is this enshrined within the NMC Code of Professional Conduct (2004) but the Human Rights Act 1998, which came into force in October 2000, clearly identifies a range of issues that relate to nursing practice. The rights set out in the Convention and its protocols that are incorporated into British law by the HRA are those in Articles 2 to 12 and Article 14 of the Convention, plus those in the first and sixth protocols. Under the Act, NHS trusts and all health authorities will be classed as“public authorities”: as such, they are obliged to act in accordance with the Convention and could be liable for breaches of the HRA. The following articles cover rights that are relevant to nursing practice and the provision of nursing care.

Article 2

enshrines the right to life and imposes a duty on public authorities to protect someone whose life is at risk. This protection could be extended to a patient needing treatment that would save his or her life.

Article 3

prohibits torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Many forms of conduct have been found to be capable of breaching Article 3, including serious assaults, prison conditions, rape, and corporal punishment, and degrading treatment could include subjection of a patient to multiple examinations for training purposes.

Article 5

recognizes the right to liberty and freedom from arbitrary detention. For detention to be lawful, it must be only for one of the specified purposes set out in the article; these can include the detention and treatment of patients with mental healthproblems. Article 5 limits the circumstances under which someone can be detained, the terms of detention being regularly reviewed on an individual basis. In such reviews the onus is on the public authority to justify continued detention rather than on the detainee to show why he or she should be released.

Article 6

guarantees the right to a fair trial in civil and criminal proceedings and sets standards for the way that proceedings are run. It may be relevant if there are accusations of bias in a Mental Health Review Tribunal or a Child ProtectionConference.

Article 8

refers to the right to privacy and family life. Many rights are safeguarded under this article, including bodily integrity (which affords protection against forced treatment or physical restraint), sexuality, personal autonomy, the right to die with dignity, access of family members, privacy of correspondence and phone calls, and environmental protection (including freedom from excessive noise).

Article 9

guarantees freedom of thought and the opportunity to hold any religious belief. Individuals cannot be forced to follow a particular religion and cannot be prevented from changing their religion. It also protects the right to practise one's religion or beliefs provided that these are part of a sufficiently coherent philosophical scheme; veganism and pacifism, for example, are protected. Possible areas of relevance for nursing practice include the provision of facilities for worship, provision of culturally appropriate food, and sensitivity over the use of mixed wards for those to whom they are not acceptable for religious reasons.

Article 10

guarantees the right to hold and express opinions and ideas. It also guarantees the right to pass information to other people and to receive information from others; however, it is essential to consider the reputation or rights of others and the issues that relate to the disclosure of information received in confidence.

Article 14

guarantees the prohibition of discrimination and clearly states that the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms covered in the other articles will be available without discrimination on any ground, such as sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, or other status.

This review of the HRA is not exhaustive and merely identifies elements that may have an impact on nursing practice. Further details of the Act are available on the website

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Human Rights Act, The

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