National Human Rights Law

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The Human Rights Act 


The Human Rights Act (HRA) received royal assent on 9th November 1998 and came into force on 2nd October 2000. It gives further effect in UK law to the rights contained in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The HRA makes it unlawful for any public body to act in a way which is incompatible with the ECHR.

It requires the judiciary as well as tribunals to:

  • Take account of any decisions, judgement or opinion of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR)

  • Interpret legislation, as far as possible, in a way which is compatible with Convention rights

If a court decides that legislation is not compatible it can:

  • Issue a Statement of incompatibility in the case of Primary legislation

  • Strike down Secondary or Subordinate legislation.

All legislation passed by the Northern Ireland Assembly (or other devolved administration is Secondary / Subordinate legislation. It would then be for Parliament to decide how to respond. The judiciary does not have the power to strike down Primary legislation. 

The HRA makes available in UK courts a remedy for breaches of ECHR rights without the need to go to the ECtHR.

  • Individuals can go to court or tribunal and argue a case under the HRA if they believe their human rights have been violated by a public authority.

  • If it is held that the public authority has violated the claimant’s rights the Court is empowered to “grant such relief or remedy, or make such order within its powers as it considers just and appropriate.”

  • This can include an award of damages although the HRA provides additional restrictions on the Court’s capacity to make such an award.

  • If a claimant is unsuccessful in the domestic system, they can still pursue their claim at the ECtHR after exhausting all domestic remedies.

The Northern Ireland Act


The Northern Ireland Act sets out departmental statutory duties in relation to human rights for Northern Ireland Civil Service government departments in sections 24 and 26.

  • Section 24

A Minister or a Northern Ireland Department has no power to make, confirm or approve any legislation that:

  • Is incompatible with any Convention rights 

  • Is incompatible with Community law

  • Modifies an enactment in breach of section 7

  • Aids or incites discrimination against a person / class of person on that ground 

  • Discriminates against a person or class of person on the grounds of religious belief or political opinion 

  • Section 26

The Secretary of State may by order direct that certain actions proposed or capable of being proposed not be taken if they are considered to be:

  • Incompatible with any international obligations 

  • Incompatible with the interests of defence or national security 

  • Incompatible with the protection of public safety or public order

  • Negatively effecting the operation of the single market in goods and services within the UK.