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?