National human rights law was introduced in the UK when the Human Rights Act came into force in 2000. This legislation is the primary domestic framework requiring all public authorities to respect, protect and fulfil human rights and it is the first port of call for any individual who feels their rights have been violated.
Human Rights Act
The main purpose of the Human Rights Act is to incorporate the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) into UK law so that people could seek remedy within their own domestic legal system. This makes human rights more accessible as it does not require individuals take their cases to the European Court in Strasbourg. The Human Rights Act is also intended to develop a culture of human rights in the UK as it reinforces the requirement for all state bodies including government departments, district councils, courts, police, schools and hospitals as well as non-public sector bodies carrying out public functions to act in accordance with the ECHR when making legislation and policy and in all their day to day decisions.
Impact of the Northern Ireland Act
In addition to the Human Rights Act, Section 24 and 26 of the Northern Ireland Act also place a statutory duty on the Northern Ireland Executive and all its departments to comply with the ECHR and all the international human rights treaties. Subsequently, there are a range of oversight mechanisms in place in the NICS that ensure civil servants are acting in compliance with human rights laws. These include procedural safeguards such as screening and impact assessment and the role of national courts and tribunals in reviewing decisions and providing redress where necessary.
The NICS has two guides to the Human Rights Act providing an overview of the law and how it works and practical advice for civil servants on how to be compliant with the obligations it creates. Both of the below were produced by the Executive Office to assist civil servants across all NICS departments.