In the UK, human rights are protected by the Human Rights Act 1998. Only public authorities must follow the Human Rights Act.
This means you can take action under the Human Rights Act if a public authority has breached your human rights. But you can’t take action against a private individual as they’re not covered by the Act.
Read this page to find out more about public authorities.
The Human Rights Act says a public authority is an organisation which provides public functions.
Here are examples of public authorities:
Private organisations or charities are also public authorities if they carry out public functions. They must respect your human rights when they carry out their public functions.
This could include - for example:
It’s the courts who decide if something is a public function as there’s no definition in the Human Rights Act.
Generally speaking a public function is something that's normally provided to the public by the state like education, prisons or health services.
So if an organisation carries out one of these activities on behalf of the state they may be a public authority. But it’s not enough for a private organisation to carry out a public service for it to count as a public authority.
The courts will look at a number of things to decide if a private organisation is a public authority. It will look at whether the organisation is:
Public authorities which are also public sector organisations like NHS hospitals, the police or schools must follow the Human Rights Act in everything they do, even if it’s not a public function. This means they must also follow the Act when they do things of a private nature, like making employment contracts.
Private organisations only have to follow the Human Rights Act when they carry out their public functions.
A private security company runs a prison for the government. It also provides security guards to a supermarket. It would only be covered by the Human Rights Act in its public function of running the prison, not in providing the security guards to the supermarket as this is of a private nature.
The Human Rights Act says courts should consider human rights in all cases they hear. This is because they're also public authorities and so must follow the Human Rights Act.
All courts in the UK must apply the law in a way which is compatible with human rights. This means they must interpret and give effect to the law in a way which is as close to the Human Rights Act as possible. They must do this in all cases they hear even if they don’t involve a public authority.
The EASS helpline can provide advice and information on human rights and discrimination issues.
You can find useful information about discrimination on the EHRC website at
For more information and advice on the different rights protected under the Human Rights Act, go to Liberty’s website at
You can also find more information about human rights in Your human rights guides from the British Institute of Human Rights (BIHR) at
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