Vulnerable people are continuing to suffer inhumane treatment in social care and health services, according to a report marking the tenth anniversary of the Human Rights Act.
The British Institute of Human Rights has highlighted cases across the UK where service users felt professionals breached fundamental rights to dignity, privacy, and social inclusion.
Yet in each case the individuals, their advocates or other staff members successfully challenged unacceptable treatment by invoking the principles of the law, without taking the matter to court.
Act “promotes good practice”
The report, The Human Rights Act – Changing Lives, says this is part of a growing culture where the act allows “ordinary people going about their day-to-day lives” to exercise their rights.
It calls the act, which incorporated the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law a decade ago, “a vital tool…in promoting good practice in public services”. The BIHR urges councils and NHS trusts to integrate it into the design and delivery of all services.
The 16 new case studies include parents with learning disabilities being spied on by social workers using a CCTV camera in one case, and subjected to daily unannounced visits in another. In a London nursing home, older people were forced to use wheelchairs regardless of their mobility, while a long-term patient in a mental health hospital was almost denied his wish to marry his partner.
In a case in Merseyside, staff at a day centre run by a third sector provider forced a young man with learning disabilities in to wear arm splints most days. This was to prevent him from biting his hands and pulling out his hair.
Mersey Care NHS Trust said it used the Human Rights Act to challenge the man’s treatment. The provider agreed that the practice violated his right to respect for his private life, and agreed to limit the use of the splints to episodes when his behaviour posed a significant risk to his own well-being.
Act ‘can change lives’
In the other cases, advocates and consultants raised concerns that key rights were being violated, and the decisions were reversed.
Ceri Goddard, acting director of the BIHR, said that despite calls for it to be scrapped, the Human Rights Act “should be celebrated for the positive changes it is making to people’s everyday lives”.
British Institute of Human Rights