Right to Respect for Private and Family Life

Continuing my monthly series of posts looking at the various articles of Human rights, and what society might be like without them, this month I focus on the right to respect for private and family life.

Article B of the Human Rights Act 1993 and the European Convention on Human Rights sets out that everyone has the right to respect for their private and family life, their home and their correspondence. This is, perhaps, one of the most used articles in claims launched by prisoners. But why?

There are many decisions made by the prison service, the parole board, and the probation service which impact significantly on a prisoner’s private or family life. In the past such decisions have included a decision not to transfer a prisoner from one probation region to another (making it impossible for him to live in the family home with his fiancee), a decision to wrongfully disclose the previous convictions of an ex-offender to a third party, a decision to prohibit a patient in a high security hospital who was convicted of murder from receiving visits from his nieces and nephews, a decision by prison staff to wrongfully open and read a prisoner’s confidential solicitor’s letters, and the decision to retain a transgender prisoner in a male prison. All of these challenges were successful.

But Article 8 does not just apply to prisoners and ex-offenders. it applies to everyone. It applies to you. What if someone told you where you could live, who you could have contact with, whether you should have to disclose your private information to strangers, or whether your confidential mail could be read by the police without any justification being given? Article 8 would protect you.

And what if it wasn’t? What if we lived in a society where you could be ordered to live only in approved areas, where you could be told not to live with your partner unless you are married, where you could be required to submit your daily post to a local censorship office, regardless of what sensitive information it might contain, for it to be read and then disclosed to all your neighbours. I for one would hate to live in such a society. And actually, the chances of us ever living like that is thankfully minimal. It is minimal because we have the Human Rights Act. And even if we didn’t have that Act, any British Bill of Rights which might be introduced would certainly include the same article anyway – since this is a right that is valued by each and every one of us.

There is nothing wrong with the right to respect for your private and family life, and I don’t think anyone would suggest that there is. So why would we ever want to get rid of the Act that safeguards it for us?

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5 thoughts on “Right to Respect for Private and Family Life

  1. I think you have a very benign attitude to the way the world is going. It won’t be long before we’re told whereto live. or at least the poor people will be so that the rich can enjoy the nicer bits of the world. The Tories are proposing to bring in legislation that if not curtailed will soon lead to all of our communications in or out being read by GCHQ. In short we’re soon going to end up in a world that doesn’t look very different to the one people currently experience in prison

    • I’m not sure that I’d agree that I’m benign about it. I am often criticised for being idealistic but I’m proud to be. If you aren’t prepared to fight for your ideals, what is the point of having them?
      And I agree with you. Society in general is certainly on the road to giving up all of the rights I’ve been describing. Showing people that was exactly my intent when I decided to write about Human Rights. And yes, if it carries on, society in the outside world will look very similar to life in prison. And that is precisely why people need to wake up and realise that it is all very well to say “I’m happy to give up some of my liberties if it keeps us all safe”, but if you give up all your liberties what are you but a prisoner?
      And let me be clear, if you don’t want to end up being a prisoner yourself, then this is your fight. There is no waiting. There is no procrastination. You must stand up for yourself immediately and actually do something to preserve the rights that keep you free.
      My rule is simple. If you see something you don’t like and you try to make it better then it doesn’t matter if you are successful or not, you have an absolute right to be heard. But if you see the world around you crumbling and you do nothing to help, then you have no right to complain about it at all. With that in mind I would ask everyone who is reading this: what have you done today?

      • Well said. A note from the underground urging us all to be vigilant and active. The potential of the 1945 *tough generation* frightened the Establishment so much, the NHS and much more were delivered. They were on rations, bombed to bits and owing a massive financial debt to the Americans and Canadians but had seen and experienced enough not to accept the status quo. Now, many people are experiencing the status quo ante! Along with vigilance and action, we need knowledge of our own history.

        • I agree. It has been pointed out to me that my comment may have been seen as a bit harsh, but since events in Paris last week I have been hearing a lot of people talk about the kind of world they want to live in as though it is something someone else should sort out. The truth is, it is all of our responsibilities. Anyone, myself included, who wants to live in a better world can contribute to making it one. If you don’t know how yet, it is never that difficult to get together with someone who does.

  2. Another good one Adam although I think Alison’s comments are valid.
    In France, a Citizen has the Constitutional Right to a married life. We, of course, are not formall Citizens but * Subjects* of the Crown. We do not have a written Constitution; we have a *Constitutional Tradition*. In that Tradition, there is no separation of Church and State as the Monarch is (titular) Head of State and the State Religion. Many Brits don’t know this as with many non-Brits who are really surprised by this anomaly. Strangely (to me), on a day to day level we are a more secular country than, for example, the USA where separation of Church and State is enshrined in their Constitution. What use are words on paper if you don’t follow them? Some States do not follow their Laws then change them to match their informal practice.

    My ex-Partner’s biggest hate of me was that she believed I did not try hard enough to obtain Parole for the birth of our daughter whom I have mentioned to you in the past. The Human Rights Act you refer to was then but a straw in the wind. I don’t think anybody, in those days, had actually got Parole for this reason. I think it has happened recently but you might correct me on this. I wrote my application to the Home Office and, in all honesty, it would have made a bureaucrat with no heart and glass eyes sob. The POs supported me, so I was told, with the Wing Officer urging me to *show them in London what love is*. My Partner, understandably, was badly scarred by having to spend time (lot longer then) having to watch the other mothers getting visits from the fathers of their babies. I can’t say, honestly, that I could feel her pain but I could feel her feeling pain. Get me?

    I used to say that Prisons reflected the communities that they were in. There are big differences as you well know. Now I say that Society reflects the Prison system. I suspect there are many POs would agree. Now, the reports of some of those newly released wanting to go back have credibility.

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