Human Rights Act Toolkit

Roger Masterman (Human Rights Centre, Department of Law, University of Durham, Durham, UK)

International Journal of Public Sector Management

ISSN: 0951-3558

Article publication date: 1 June 2004



Masterman, R. (2004), "Human Rights Act Toolkit", International Journal of Public Sector Management, Vol. 17 No. 4, pp. 374-374.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Jenny Watson and Mitchell Woolf's Human Rights Act Toolkit is a useful addition to the burgeoning literature surrounding the 1998 Act. Designed for public and voluntary sector staff, it “assumes the reader has no knowledge of the Act” (p. 2) and begins with a consideration of the general principles of human rights and their application to everyday situations. As the authors note, “there is no need to understand the details of the law to be able to use the Human Rights Act as a decision‐making framework” (p. 5), and indeed the Government's conception of a human rights culture is arguably more likely to be realised through the widespread application of such principles in everyday decision‐making rather than through recourse to the courts.

The checklist process itself (outlined at pp. 16‐17) is designed to highlight human rights‐related issues at various stages of the decision‐, or policy‐making process. It deals with the reasoning behind a decision or policy; the identification of the right(s) which may be affected; the duty on public authorities to protect rights (including positive obligations); the idea of balancing competing rights against each other; and finally, the organisational process – ensuring that there has been consultation, raising awareness through training and the provision of legal advice where necessary (pp. 53‐4). Two detailed examinations of the checklist in practice considering the right to a fair trial (Article 6) and the prohibition on discrimination (Article 14) follow (pp. 55‐71 and pp. 73‐81).

The second part of the book takes a more legalistic approach and following a brief section on the purpose of the Human Rights Act embarks on an article‐by‐article analysis of the Convention rights (pp. 117‐58). The main aspects – and exceptions – to the rights are outlined with illustrations of (European and domestic) case‐law provided so as to continue to link the legal principle with the practical situation. This analysis is by no means exhaustive – but as this is not primarily a book for lawyers there is no reason why it should be. This section concludes with an especially useful introduction to some of the principles stemming from the European Convention on Human Rights which, following the Human Rights Act, are of particular importance to those dealing with human rights issues – the concept that a measure must be proportionate to the aim to be achieved, the meaning of “necessary in a democratic society” and so on (pp. 175‐92).

In her foreword to the book Helena Kennedy QC writes that, “[i]n order to achieve a genuine shift in our democratic culture, human rights thinking needs to be moved out of academia, the courts and oak‐panelled rooms in barristers' chambers and into the workplace and the public sphere.” The Human Rights Act Toolkit should provide some of the momentum needed for such a change. It is a concise, well‐structured, and more importantly accessible, introduction to the principles of human rights law under the Human Rights Act 1998.

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