Today represents the last article analysis as part of the Christmas Rights series and an incredibly important principle it is too; the anti-discrimination principle:
The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this Convention shall be secured 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, property, birth or other status.
What does it mean?
Article 14 represents an over-arching type of right. It states that all of the rights and freedoms discussed (as well the social and economic rights guaranteed in ‘The First Protocol’ of the Human Rights Act) are secured for everyone indiscriminately. As I have previously said in numerous articles posted, in this series as well as before, human rights by definition are equal, universal and inalienable. This is pretty much the only definition that is certain about what represents a human right and Article 14 aims to solidify that definition.
Although this is not a confusing principle, you do have to be careful to not mistake it for a right to be protected from discrimination generally. The Human Rights Act does not contain such a right, instead carefully wording the article to say these rights shall be enjoyed without discrimination. These may seem like small differences, but they are important nonetheless. What this means is, the government has a positive obligation to ensure the rights and freedoms in the Act are enjoyed by all. They have to ensure that if someone has one of these rights infringed within their jurisdiction, that this is not for discriminatory reasons and if it is, they have access to justice and compensation, or the discrimination has weighty objective justifications behind.
What it doesn’t mean is that we can sue the government every time we are discriminated against in day-to-day life. Although the Article doesn’t specifically state that an infringement of another article is required to invoke Article 14, the facts must be that the matter is within the scope of another Article (known as the ‘ambit principle’), otherwise how do you claim that right has been held from you due to discrimination?
Another way the wording of this article limits the protection from discrimination offered, is by only protecting you from being discriminated against by public authorities. As discussed in an earlier article, I pointed out that the Human Rights Act can theoretically only be used to hold public authorities accountable. I say theoretically, because there is a chance the Human Rights Act can be said to have ‘horizontal effect’ and therefore be used against other private subjects, but it is quite complex to explain, as well as being quite unlikely. If you do want to read more about it though, there’s a fairly simple explanation here.
Even if the Act doesn’t have horizontal effect, we do have the Equality Act 2010 in the UK. This Act supports the Human Rights Act in a way by criminalising discrimination due to one or two of the protected characteristics (not three, but that is a completely different problem). This act obviously applies to private individuals and organisations too, making the limited effects of Article 14 somewhat easier to deal with.
The final important point about this Article’s scope is that discrimination may not be defined as simply as you expect it to be. For example, discriminatory action doesn’t just cover the horrific actions of those such as the KKK, the BNP and John Terry. It also includes treating people exactly the same, when they should be treated differently, for example those with disabilities can need different standards of care, or you may need to speak more slowly if you ever meet anyone from TOWIE so they can understand what you’re talking about.
So, what does this article mean? It means you as a person in UK jurisdiction have the same rights and freedoms as everyone else within that jurisdiction. By definition, no-one gets better or worse protection of these freedoms from public authorities, otherwise Article 14 is infringed.
How well is it applied?
As the news shows us daily, unfortunately simply saying we are a country that battles discrimination in an effort to provide an equal society is a lot easier than achieving such a thing. Although we do hear about these frankly bewildering stories still, in which people blame a human being for something that has occurred because they share a characteristic with the guilty parties, the courts have made a good effort to promote the non-discrimination principle. The ambit which Article 14 must fall within has shown to be cast relatively wide by the courts. Price v UK (2002) is an example, where Article 3 was said to be infringed as authorities did not provide wheelchair facilities in court, and then detained a wheelchair user for not being present in that court. Although it wasn’t an infringement of Article 14 per se, it was an infringement of Article 3 on a discriminatory basis, showing that the non-discrimination principle is being considered.
Even outside of the scope of the Human Rights Act, as time goes on, we seem to get more and more recognition of the fact that discrimination is in fact a bad thing. Even racists like Farage have had to say they are not racist in an effort to avoid their name being tarnished (as if that’ll work for him). The Equality Act 2010 (although it has its problems) has provided legislation that has clumped together the fragmented anti-discrimination laws of before in an effort to make it easier to protect yourself from it and know your rights. Even in the power of the public, trends such as #YouAintNoMuslimBruv have been used to combat any discriminatory acts and words, showing unity and equality.
Generally, application of the non-discrimination principle has been quite good and our attitude towards discrimination is ever more negative. There have been problems (like with many articles) due to terrorism and the obsession with limiting liberty more and more for the sake of security. Control orders were a big example of this where suspected terrorists were pretty much made to spend 18 hours a day (or more) on their own with no access to their families/friends, raising serious questions about Article 8 privacy, 6 fair trial and potentially things like Article 9 practicing their religion. However, national courts have made efforts in such cases to provide what they see as a sufficient balance between liberty and security as our society would expect. Whether you or I agree with that balance is a different question and I again urge you to discover that for yourself. So, overall application of this principle is quite good and certainly improving. Discrimination is being taken more and more seriously both in terms of Article 14 and as a public nuisance. Who knows, maybe even one day people will stop sharing stuff from Britain First yet claiming they’re not racist. We can dream right?
So, that’s it, the Christmas Rights series is officially over! There are more Articles that make up the Human Rights Act, however these are the ones I have chosen to cover and I hope I have covered them well enough for you. The entire point of this series was to hopefully make it easy for people to learn the basic meanings of these rights that we possess, not only because it is important that we know what we have a right to, but also because it provides a simple, yet useful foundation to build your knowledge upon. Setting up The Human Writes Blog was something I did to encourage people to learn about one of the most important topics to us as human beings today and for the foreseeable future. I sincerely hope I have helped at least some of you do that and maybe sparked a slight interest in what can often look like a dull subject. Keep coming back as another series is on its way next month, and in the meantime discussions of current affairs will continue. Thank you for reading and I wish you all the happiest of holidays!