The Human Rights Act: Sometimes it’s about everyday life and death decisions

By Natalie Therfall and Sanchita Hosali at the British Institute of Human Rights

 

At the end of our lives, 68% of us will die in hospital. Of that percentage, 80% will die with ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ (DNR) orders in place. These are the sobering figures Lord Dyson quoted when delivering today’s Court of Appeal judgement which confirmed that a person’s basic human rights can be breached when a DNR order is placed on a patient file without consultation.

The Case

Janet Tracey from Family Handout

Janet Tracey, photo from Family Handout

The case (Tracey v Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Trust) was about Janet Tracey, a care home manager, who was seriously ill with terminal cancer and had to be ventilated following injuries sustained in a car crash. In the course of Mrs Tracey’s treatment, when she was about to be removed from artificial ventilation, a DNR order was placed on her records. The removal of the ventilator was successful and Mrs Tracey was able to breathe unassisted. Later on Mrs Tracey’s daughter looked up what was meant by the term ‘DNR’ which she had seen written on her mother’s records. She was distressed to discover that had her mother’s heart stopped (cardiac arrest) during her treatment, she would not have been resuscitated. At the request of the family, the hospital removed the DNR order. Janet, her family and medical staff were then able to discuss end of life matters, and subsequently decided that they would place a DNR order on file. A little while later, Mrs Tracey died in hospital.

The family were concerned that the first DNR had appeared on Mrs Tracey’s records without any consultation. They asked the courts to decide whether this breached her right to respect for private and family life which is protected by the Human Rights Act (Article 8).

The Importance of the Judgment

The first judge who heard the case believed the family’s claim that the DNR order placed without permission violated Mrs Tracey’s right to respect for private and family life was academic because the order had been removed before it had done any harm. Lord Dyson in the Court of Appeal disagreed. He noted that the fact Mrs Tracey’s heart had not stopped while the DNR order was on file was fortuitous, and:

fortuity cannot bear on the question whether Mrs Tracey was sufficiently involved in the decision-making process which led to the imposition of the first notice.”

In other words, Mrs Tracey was lucky, and being lucky does not mean the decision to place the first DNR on file respected Mrs Tracey’s human rights. In the future others who may have been subject to DNR orders without consultation may not have been so lucky. The Court also said it was not enough that the DNR order was cancelled when the family raised concerns. Mrs Tracey’s human rights were engaged by the underlying policy that led to a decision being made without consulting her. It was not the refusal to resuscitate that was being challenged, but the policy that led to decision being made without involving the Tracey family.

Why is this about human rights?

The right to respect for private and family life applies to a range of decisions and issues that affect people’s private life. Crucially, this can include decisions at the end of life. Lord Dyson states in the case:

A decision as to how to pass the closing days and moments of one’s life and how one manages one’s death touches in the most immediate and obvious way a patient’s personal autonomy, integrity, dignity and quality of life.”

Clearly, the right to respect for private and family life was engaged in Mrs Tracey’s case (and other end of life decisions) and should be a vital part of the decision making process.

When deciding whether Mrs Tracey’s human rights had been breached the judge said it is clear from previous decisions in the European Court of Human Rights that the degree of patient involvement in end of life decisions required by Article 8 will depend on the particular circumstances of the case. But this right also carries with it a presumption of patient involvement, and there must be very convincing reasons for not involving the patient.

What convincing reasons?

There is a principle in common law that a patient cannot force a doctor to give them a particular treatment, including resuscitation. Lord Dyson explains this does not mean the patient is not entitled to know about the doctor’s decision, to discuss it with them and if appropriate, request a second opinion.

Importantly the Court also said that just because a patient may be distressed by a discussion about non-resuscitation, as Mrs Tracey was, does not mean they should be excluded from the decision. The doctor may only exclude a person from the decision process if “he or she thinks that the patient will be distressed by being consulted and that that distress might cause the patient harm”.

The Outcome of the Case

By the time the case was heard in the Court of Appeal, the hospital had rewritten the policy regarding DNR decisions. The Court notes that the new policy respects the Article 8 rights of patients by involving them in decisions where doctors think a DNR order is necessary. However, the previous policy which had led to a DNR order being placed on Mrs Tracey’s records without consultation had breached her human rights under Article 8.

Beyond the case – the everyday impact

The right to respect for private and family life is not absolute. It is a qualified right, which means officials can restrict it when there is a law in place to allow such a restriction and when it meets one of the aims set out in the Human Rights Act, e.g. to protect the rights of others. In any event, any restriction of the right must always be proportionate. This means all alternatives should be considered, and the decision maker should not simply jump straight to the most restrictive option.

Following Mrs Tracey’s case, when a doctor assesses whether discussing a DNR order with a patient will distress them enough to cause “physical or psychological harm”, they will have to balance this harm against the potential harm to the patient’s rights if they do not include them in the decision.

Sadly at the British Institute of Human Rights we know that MRs Tracey’s case is not a one-off. We work extensively in the health and social care sector, both with doctors and nurses and advocates supporting patients and families. The issue of DNR orders being placed on people’s files without consultation is something we hear all too frequently.

In one instance a 51 year old man with Down’s syndrome and dementia had a DNR order put on his file without him or his family being consulted. The reasons given on the form were listed as: ‘Down’s syndrome, unable to swallow… bed bound, learning difficulties’. He and his family argued that this was discrimination and that it breached his right to life under Article 2. The case was settled out of court and the NHS Trust apologised.

In another instance a worker for an advocacy group we’ve supported visited her client, an older man with dementia, on the hospital ward. She found a DNR order on his file and when she asked staff about this was she was told that everyone on the ward had a DNR automatically. The client was not aware of the DNR. However his advocate believed he had capacity to take the information on board, as well as having two daughters who had visited but were not consulted or informed. The advocate challenged the blanket use of the DNR orders with staff, explaining that she thought this raised serious human rights issues, especially the right to life not to be discriminated against. The DNR was withdrawn.

Putting human rights into practice

Clearly human rights need to be part of the decisions made every-day by staff in health and social care. A human rights approach helps staff to do this, empowering them to see the law as not merely a compliance issue for lawyers but part of their everyday practice. BIHR’s new resource The Difference It Makes: Putting Human Rights at the Heart of Health and Social Care is designed to help practitioners do this, using a range of real-life stories.

Following Mrs Tracey’s case all professionals involved in DNR decisions need to be aware of their obligations under the Human Rights Act to involve patients in these decisions. It may also be necessary for NHS Trusts and organisations to review their policies on making of DNR decisions to ensure people’s human rights are being respected. This, after all should be at the heart of our health care:

 

NHS Constitution Principle 1: The NHS provides a comprehensive service, available to all… It has a duty to each and every individual that it serves and must respecttheir human rights”

 

 If you found this blog useful please consider supporting BIHR to win a competition for Small Charities Week 16-20 June 2014. All you need to do is send a Tweet which says: #ILoveSmallCharities like @BIHRhumanrights because (and add you reason).
As a small charity we rely on the support of those who care about human rights being respected, protected and fulfilled in the UK. Your Tweet could help us to win this competition!

 

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Carers Week 2014: Human rights inside the courts and everyday advocacy

By Sanchita Hosali and Natalie Therfall at the British Institute of Human Rights

 

This Carers’ Week (9-13 June) we take a look at some important court judgments affirming the human rights of carer givers and care receivers alike. These judgments highlight the role of the Human Rights Act both in challenging poor decisions and its use in the decision making process. But remember it’s not all about the courts, BIHR’s Your Human Rights: A Pocket Guide for Carers is a handy resource to help people in their day-to-day interactions with public services, outlined at the end of this blog.

When the local authority becomes involved in care at home

There have been a number of cases where the proper procedures for altering care arrangements has not been followed. Although this may seem like a box ticking exercise, the result of such procedural failures has been to separate families. In one case a family carer had not been informed where their relative has been taken. The Human Rights Act has important role in such cases, empowering carers to hold services to account when officials have overstepped the mark.

In RR v Milton Keynes Council, an 81 year old woman with dementia was removed from her home without warning and without authorisation. Her son was not informed where she had been taken and their contact was restricted. The court roundly criticised the conduct of the local authority. The authorities had violated the woman’s right to liberty protected by the Human Rights Act (in Article 5) by failing to get the proper authorisation to detain her in a nursing home. They were also found to have violated her right to respect private and family life under the Act (Article 8) by removing her from her home of 30 years and from the family that had been caring for her.

This case bears striking similarities to that of the Neary family who took action against Hillingdon Borough Council; ; where Steven Neary, a young man with learning disabilities cared for by his father, Mark, was taken into respite care and then not allowed to return home for a year. Again the court criticised the conduct of the local authority in this case, which took place 3 years before RR. The court decided that the authorities had violated Steven’s right to liberty by detaining him without authorisation, for a number of months. And both Steven and Mark’s right to respect for private and family life had been violated because Steven had been taken from the family home and they could no longer enjoy life as a family.

As well as the delays sought in authorising depriving Steven of his liberty in the care unit, the court criticised the use of safeguards.. Known as Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (DOLS, set out in the Mental Capacity Act 2005), these are intended to safeguard people who have been deprived of their Article 5 right to liberty. Mark Neary, Steven’s father, was quoted in the judgement as saying “safeguards seemed good – the reality didn’t. I didn’t know where I was”. It was clear in Neary that the safeguards had been misused. Here measures which are supposed to ensure respect for the rights of people in care were used as a tool to ensure continued detention, and risks to the right to liberty. Clearly, reason for safeguarding are about ensuring people’s basic rights to liberty and to free from harm, in practice this was forgotten, which is why the Human Rights Act was needed to challenge officials and hold them to account.

The Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards

The recent case known as Cheshire West is a significant step in recognising the human rights of those without capacity to make decisions about their own care. It concerned three adults with learning disabilities in ‘home like’ care placements who were none-the-less deprived of their liberty under Article 5. This is because, as the lead judgment by Lady Hale states, disabled people and people who lack capacity to make a decision are still protected by the same universal human rights as the rest of us. As Baroness Hale said, if a care arrangement would deprive her of her liberty, then so too would it deprive the person without capacity of theirs, it doesn’t matter what the intentions behind the deprivation are, or whether the person seems not to protest against the situation:

a gilded cage is still a cage

The case is important for carers. This test about whether a situation is depriving someone of their liberty applies whenever the state becomes involved in the provision of care. Where a local authority assumes responsibility for somebody’s care, they also assume responsibility to properly assess whether their care arrangements deprive that person of their liberty. If they do, then the proper safeguards must be applied. Baroness Hale is quick to emphasise that needing to apply the safeguards to a person’s care is not a bad thing. It is a crucial mechanism for ensuring that the person’s rights are respected while receiving care. The reviews required by the safeguards should be independent assessments which determine whether the persons rights, including to make decisions about what happens to them (Article 8) are respected to the maximum extent possible.

Respecting the wishes of the person in care

A 2013 case highlights importance of taking the wishes of the person in care into account in decisions affecting their life. The substantial issue of the case was whether an older woman with dementia could be allowed to return to live in her home for a trial period. The woman, Mrs Manuela Sykes, a former activist and politician also wished to waive her right to anonymity in order to raise awareness of her experience. The court found that at the time of the case Mrs Sykes lacked the capacity to make that decision for herself, however, taking into account her present wishes and her former strongly held values, it was decided that it was in her best interests to allow her to waive her anonymity: “by nature she is a fighter, a campaigner, a person of passion… she would wish her life to end with a bang not a whimper.”

A recent case from the European Court of Human Rights, McDonald v UK found that a woman forced to use incontinence pads when she was not incontinent had her rights to a private life engaged when she was made to live in a manner which “conflicted with [her] strongly held ideas of self and personal identity”. Once those Article 8 rights were engaged, the local authority providing overnight care had a duty to consider those rights when making their decision or else they would be in breach of them. This case highlights the importance of looking at all care decisions through a human rights lens.

Challenging discrimination against carers

The rights in the Human Rights Act are drawn from the European Court of Human Rights, which is overseen by the European Court of Human Rights. The European Union and the European Court of Justice are completely separate. However, when the ECJ was asked to look at an employment case from the UK involving a carer, they looked at human rights. In Coleman v Attridge Law the ECJ used the ECHR human rights principle of non-discrimination when deciding whether an EU directive prohibiting discrimination against disabled people in employment applied to Sharon Coleman. Sharon, the main carer for her disabled son, worked at a law firm and was denied flexible work arrangements offered to her colleagues without disabled children. The ECJ found that disability discrimination by association is unlawful in the workplace. The case ensured that UK law provides protection against discrimination on the grounds of someone’s association, including caring responsibilities, with a disabled person.

Everyday empowerment and accountability is important tooCarers Guide

Human rights have been relied on in all of the above cases to ensure that lack of capacity or a caring role do not prevent a person from enjoying and exercising their rights. This has been something of a whistle stop tour of recent case law surrounding care, but you can read about some of these cases in more detail on this blog.

Finally, it’s really important to remember human rights are not all about the courts. The Human Rights Act has an important role beyond and before legal action. The law is about our rights and it can empower us to challenge poor treatment and decisions in our everyday interactions with public officials (as well as help officials develop and deliver better services). BIHR’s project work to take human rights into the heart of everyday life has included working with carers and their advocates. In our consultation with n-compass advocacy service in the North East of England:

  • Almost half thought human rights were important to their caring role
  • But less than a third felt confident that they knew what their rights were
  • And only 15% felt confident advocating for the rights of those they cared for

That’s why we produced Your Human Rights: A Pocket Guide for Carers, to help fill that gap. The Pocket Guide is about empowering carer’s with a bit more knowledge about their rights and the rights of those they care for, and carer’s tell us how important this is:

[with BIHR’s Pocket Guide] I feel more empowered and confident on how to challenge, I see human rights can facilitate change (Carer, North East England)

The BIHR guidance helps to equip carers with the knowledge to better secure their rights as well as those of the persons they care for. It’s all about bringing rights home. (Nick Gradwell, carer and expert by expereince)

So this Carers Week let’s spread the word that human rights are what it says on the tin – getting it “right” for all “humans” including carers and those for whom they care.

 

Human rights law protects dignity in decisions about care

By Sanchita Hosali and Natalie Threlfall

Today the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that a London borough’s withdrawal of night-time care from Ms McDonald breached her human rights for almost a year before proper processes were completed. Significantly, in McDonald v UK the Court found a breach of the right to respect for private and family life in the provision of support services for a disabled person. The Court emphasises the importance the human right to respect for private life places on dignity, a principle which now clearly applies in provision and decisions associated with welfare support.

Removing the overnight carer

The case was brought by Ms McDonald, a former prima ballerina with the Scottish Ballet. Following a stroke Ms McDonald needed help to get around her house and was unable to use the toilet at night. The local authority – Kensington and Chelsea – originally provided Ms McDonald with an overnight carer, however this care package was suddenly withdrawn and she was told instead to use incontinence pads at night. As she was not incontinent Ms McDonald refused to do this, and understandably felt that to act as though she was incontinent was an affront to her dignity.

Making the link to human rights
Ms McDonald ended up taking legal action to challenge this decision, including on the grounds that withdrawal of care was an unjustifiable interference with her right to respect for her private life (Article 8 of the Human Rights Act & European Convention). This right includes ensuring public authorities respect physical and mental well-being, that decision-making is fair and dignified and takes account of the person. Recognising that there are not infinite resources, this right can be limited provided it is a proportionate response to the situation, which means it’s both necessary and lawful.

During the course of legal action, two local authority care plan reviews decided that incontinence pads were practical and appropriate. The UK’s Supreme Court rejected her case, describing the human rights argument as ‘hopeless’, and in 2011 all night-time care was withdrawn.

Seeking justice, the long road to Strasbourg
Ms McDonald’s last avenue for challenging the decision lay with the European Court of Human Rights. The Court reinforced the need for a broad approach to the right to respect for private life. The Court stressed that respect for ‘human dignity and freedom’ are the very essence of the European Convention on Human Rights, notions which will be increasingly significant with an aging population and finite welfare resources. The Court applied the reasoning from the Pretty case, in which a disabled woman, sought to clarify whether her husband would be prosecuted for assisting her to commit suicide. Although a very different set of issues, the European Court today confirmed that dignity is not only relevant to such extreme cases, but is also important in everyday issues such as decisions about care and support services. The Court found that the local authority decision meant Ms McDonald was forced to live in a way that “conflicted with [her] strongly held ideas of self and personal identity” and therefore her case fell within the right to respect for private life.

The outcome for Ms McDonald
Following withdrawal of the care package for overnight assistance, Miss McDonald’s needs were reassessed as being met through the use of incontinence pads. The European Court ruled this was a decision the local authority was entitled to make as they had carefully weighed Miss McDonald’s needs against the economic consequences of paying for an overnight carer. However, crucially, the decision to withdraw overnight care had been made before Miss McDonald’s needs were reassessed. Therefore for the period before the reassessment, the local authority was not meeting its duty to Miss McDonald and had breached her human rights.

Dignity and the right to respect for private life back at home
In this case the later decision to withdraw overnight care was not a breach of Ms McDonald’s rights, because the proper processes were then followed, and whether this is necessary is a decision that best rests with national authorities. However, The European Court’s reliance on the concept of “strongly held ideas of self and personal identity” sends an important signal to the UK courts and local authorities to make sure people’s basic human rights are given proper consideration, and cannot simply be ignored to save money. Today’s decision, although not a resounding victory for Ms McDonald, underlines the potential power of the human rights safety-net to make sure local authorities put the protection of our human rights at the heart of decisions about care and support.

 

Read BIHR’s Press Statement in response to the McDonald case here.

For information on human rights in health and social care, including real life stories of challenge and change which use human rights without court action download BIHR’s The Difference it Makes: Putting Human Rights at the Heart of Health and Care.  You can also download our Human Rights Pocketbook for Carers, Our Human Rights Guide for Older People and tour Mental Health and Human Rights Advocacy guide here.

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Human Rights Beneath The Headlines – A view from BIHR’s volunteer Charlotte

Human Rights Benath the Headlines

Human Rights Benath the Headlines

On Thursday the 30 January Leigh Day Law, in London, kindly hosted the British Institute of Human Right’s (BIHR) event Human Rights Beneath the Headlines. With so much swirling about in the UK’s media on human rights BIHR decided to respond to the people who want to know more, who read the headlines and wonder if there is more to the story. The audience were invited to send in questions beforehand or to just throw out their must ask issue on media stories during the Q and A style event.

Helen Wildbore, Human Rights Officer at BIHR, was in the chair and joined by Adam Wagner, Barrister and founder and editor of the UK Human Rights Blog, Benjamin Burrows solicitor at Leigh Day and his colleague Elisabeth Andresen, who have worked on a range of cases including prisoner’s rights, the Dale farm eviction and health abuse issues, plus BIHR’s Deputy Director Sanchita Hosali. The panel shared their expertise to look behind some of the cases most often featured in the headlines, as well as shining a light on those human rights cases that rarely make it into the media. The headlines came from a variety of UK newspapers, broadsheets and tabloids, which ran stories on human rights issues.

Read all about it!

To start we looked at headlines relating to prisoner’s voting rights asking questions such as, ‘Why should judges in Europe be able to force us to give prisoners the vote?’ The panellists looked at the legal issues behind the prisoner voting cases and what the ECHR said in its judgement – that the blanket ban on prisoner voting was unlawful rather than all prisoners should be given the vote. The negative headlines on the issue also highlighted the continued confusion between the European Union and the European Court of Human Rights when it comes to human rights law – some questioned whether this was deliberate or not.

Event panellists

Event panellists

Other headlines posed the question – ‘It seems like the Human Rights Act is really only about helping people who should be punished not given more rights?’ As panellist Adam flagged these aren’t cases about damages, they are about justice, often for people who have been at the sharp end of Government decisions. As Sanchita noted, one of the functions of human rights is to help ensure justice and the rule of law in democracies, to protect us all including those who the majority or those in power might deem unpopular. This was echoed by Elizabeth who spoke about cases on Mid-Staffordshire and other major healthcare failings where the Human Rights Act provides families with a vital way of holding the authorities to account. Again, what human rights helps them with is to get an apology for the infringement of their rights or the abuse of their loved ones. In many cases if damages are rewarded they are often small and only in grievous cases.

Immigration and deportation was another hot topic, with so many headlines leading to questions like ‘Is it true that human right’s stops us deporting people like criminals and from having control over immigration? We need to be able to set the rules.’ The panel spoke about how the figures on these issues are fairly complicated and often not as clear cut as presented. The law allows deportation if a person has been sentenced to more than twelve months. In the experience of the panellists successful human rights cases preventing deportation tended to be the exception rather than the norm and often involved issues like the rights of the children of those involved, including British children. Also, stories on this issues can mix up immigration and migration with deportation based on criminal conviction.

Similar issues about facts and figures were flagged when we looked at the UK’s relationship with the European Court of Human Rights. As figures that had been released on the day of the event revealed the ECHR grants very cases against the UK and in general the UK Government does fairly well at the ECHR. The ECHR’s annual statistics showed that 98.85% of the 1,652 UK cases brought to the court in 2013 were declared inadmissible or struck out. Of the remaining cases it found the UK had breached human rights in 9 cases and had not in 10.

The final set of headlines focused on the issue of ‘stories about leaving the European Convention/ Court of Human Rights and maybe having a British Bill of Rights, how would this be different?’ Sanchita spoke about how in these debates in the UK what is often ignored is that the Human Rights Act is important not for its own sake but because it is the promise of international human rights made our law. All the panellist were cautious about debates on a new British Bill of Rights. In principle sounds like a great idea, but is the political climate of negativity about human rights the context for a new law? Some questioned how different a new law to make human rights sound more appealing would be.

Putting the confusion to bed

The event certainly helped to clarify some of the facts behind the headlines. It also gave the opportunity flag up the kinds of cases where the Human Rights Act helps people in everyday life get justice. It was revealing how there are news stories where human rights are of central importance but are never mentioned. Perhaps the media and political debates would be very different if these stories also mentioned how human rights laws help people, such as enabling those subjected to inhuman and degrading circumstances in hospitals and care homes to seek accountability and better treatment. Until then events like BIHR’s Human Rights Beneath the Headlines are very much needed!

NOTE: BIHR would like to thank to everyone who came along, to our panellists and especially Leigh Day for hosting the event.

Working towards a human rights convention for older people

BIHR recently attended and spoke at a conference hosted by Age UK and Age International looking at the rationale behind having a human rights convention for older people. Hanna Gunnarsson, Intern at BIHR, reflects on the day’s events.

The strong themes of the day were the changing demography of the world (by 2050 there will be more older people than young in the world) the gap in human rights protection for older people, and whether or not a convention should be created to fill that gap. 

The morning started by looking at the case for a human rights convention for older people, which was introduced by Craig Mokhiber older peoplefrom the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights in Geneva through a video link. One of the motivations for establishing a convention is the lack of protection that older people have globally and domestically. Although some protection is given to older migrants, women and disabled people due to conventions that specifically protect those rights, there is a gap in protection for older people who do not fit into those categories. Something Craig called “a remarkable omission” by Eleanor Roosevelt’s team when making the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. John Williams, Professor of Law at Aberystwyth University, noted that the violation against older people’s rights had a tendency to be reduced and illustrated how their fight was often ridiculed in society by being portrayed as a struggle for “right to family life… and your cat”.

In the second session of the day, the focus moved away from the global to the domestic scene and looked at how different parts of the UK works on strengthening the rights of older people. Representatives from Scotland, Wales and England were there to tell their stories about work going on where they are.  The representative for England Lorraine Rogerson (Chief Information Officer, Equality and Human Rights Commission), spoke about how we need to use every tool there is to push the process of a convention forward and that hopefully on the international level there will be a tipping point towards creating a convention. Andrea Nicholas-Jones (Head of Integrated Services at the Welsh Government) and Duncan Wilson (Head of Strategy and Legal, Scottish Human Rights Commission) illustrated how they are both currently working to ensure that the situation for older people in their constituencies is improving. In Wales they are working for a Declaration of Rights for older people, and which aims to set out the rights and concerns of older people, the main theme of the Declaration is the “right to live free from fear”. The Scottish representative claimed that the Scottish Government has good intentions; but in practice the picture is less positive. They are currently identifying the gaps and negotiating how to fill them. People are living longer, which is something to celebrate but also plan and react to. He recognised that proportionality and interference of the right to a private life, family, home, and correspondence (Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights) need to be respected and gave an example of a man named Ken who was suffering from dementia and who had 106 different carers last year to support him, which caused him severe anxiety.

Critique of creating a new convention came out during the group sessions. Some thought that there should not be a distinction between people and a new convention focusing on older people would merely make them into victims that were not in charge of their own rights. Others thought that we already have too many conventions that were not properly used to defend our rights and that the UK should focus on creating more protective rights domestically instead.

After lunch, the conference looked at human rights in practice and the effects of other conventions in the UK. Andrew Latto, the Deputy Director for Work, Welfare & Wellbeing in Later life, Department for Work and Pensions, brought about laughs but there was a hidden gravity of the situation that came out during the Q&A when some delegates put him on the spot by asking critical and constructive questions about how the government was acting on improving the situation for elders. Andrew was then followed by our Deputy Director Sanchita Hosali, who looked at the different sources of protection of human rights and how we can combine them and apply them to our everyday life in the UK. She also defined what the “State” is; not just the Government in the strictest sense but public authorities more widely, who are responsible for providing us with a broad range of services, from policing to healthcare, in a way that respects, protects, and fulfils our human rights.

Afterwards, Zara Todd, a Disability Rights Campaigner, spoke about positive outcomes of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; and Jenny King and Melvyn Harries from Derby Seen Ya Rights talked about the success of their commentary video on the rights of the older LGBT community.

Michelle Mitchell, Director General of Age UK finished off with encouraging words highlighting that campaigning for rights does not go unrewarded. She was referring to Doreen Lawrence, mother of the murdered schoolboy Stephen, who during lunch had received peerage into the House of Lords. As a general endnote, emphasis was put on the need to have a culture change in how we see older people, we need to stop the distinction in how we see our own elders (and how we want them to be treated), with how we see the general demographic population of older people as merely bed-fillers in care homes.

At BIHR we couldn’t agree more, and we’re looking forward to working closely with Age UK Brighton and brighton5Hove to launch our Human Rights Tour in Brighton on 10 September. We will be looking closely at the human rights of older people at this event, if you haven’t booked your place you can do so here. We look forward to seeing you in Brighton!  

Small Places Close to Home

Alex Funnell, Intern at BIHR, updates us on a recent radio show about human rights in local communities, featuring the British Institute of Human Rights and our BIHR Human Rights Champion Sam Bond.

More often than noIMG_1776t headlines and political sound-bites focus on the idea that “public opinion” sees human rights are being about “other” people, from situations in other countries to so-called “undesirable groups” such as people in prison, or asylum seekers. Last week Radio Free Brighton aired a programme that tells a different story, one about human rights in the community, one which shows that human rights are relevant to all of us.

Sophie Howes, Human Rights Officer at the British Institute of Human Rights (BIHR), Sarah Faulkner from Assert Brighton and Hove and Sam Bond from Age UK Brighton all featured on the programme.

Sophie began the programme, talking about BIHR’s Human Rights in the Community project, a three year initiative designed to help plug the human rights knowledge gap within voluntary sector groups and local communities. She explained how there is a real affinity between these groups and human rights – often people tell BIHR they know human rights are relevant to their work but they don’t enough about human rights to practically apply in everyday work.  Through the project BIHR supported organisations and individuals in local communities to build up knowledge and capacity on human rights in a variety of creative ways. This included staff training, arts projects, and our hugely successful Human Rights Tour, a series of free to attend events on human rights in towns and cities across the UK.

Sarah Faulkner described the activities undertaken by Assert, an organisation that supports adults with autism and Asperger syndrome in Brighton and Hove, and the impact human rights has had on their work.  Sarah described practical examples of how they had used human rights in their work, for example in negotiations with the local council about the support offered to people with autism and Asperger syndrome. Sarah believes grassroots charities have a role in shedding light on the side of human rights that is largely ignored by the media, a side that helps those in the community that are in need of support.  BIHR and other human rights charities raise awareness of how human rights are relevant to different groups of people and Sarah explains that with a bit of support, such as that given by BIHR, she feels more confident when campaigning for the recognition and understanding of those with Asperger syndrome and autism.

Sam Bond is one of BBIHR Human Rights Bunting on display on Brighton Sea Front after our Brighton Human Rights TourIHR’s local human rights champions.  With the support of BIHR, Sam has been working hard to raise awareness of human rights in her local community and at UK Brighton and Hove. Age UK Brighton and Hove provides a range of services to older people, including advocacy, a crisis service, information and advice, a help at home service, and an IT drop in service. Sam views human rights as protections that we all have against the power of the government, including local authority services. She explained how having a clear understanding of human rights is particularly important for the older people she works with.  Sam wants the frontline workers of the local authority, along with clients themselves, to be aware of human rights and for information about human rights to become more accessible to older people.

Both Sam and Sarah highlight the importance of highlighting the relevance of human rights to people in our communities. Sophie gave examples of cases that illustrate how human rights are here to help us all.  One case involved the intended separation of an elderly couple because they’d been assessed as having differing physical needs which meant they were going to be placed in separate care homes.  They had been married for 65 years and were faced with the prospect of being separated for the first time in their long married life. Their family and the local community used the right to respect for private and family life in the Human Rights Act to campaign against the decision, and the local authority reversed their decision.  Sophie explained that this case showed the power of the Human Rights Act to empower older people and their families to challenge unfair decisions by the local authority, without the need to go to court.

Sophie also highlighted a case involving a young man with autism and learning disabilities who was detained unlawfully for over a year by the local authority following a brief period of temporary respite care whilst his father recovered from illness. The young man and his father went to court to challenge these decisions on the grounds that they violated the rights to liberty and to respect for private and family life under the Human Rights Act. Following this the young man was able to return home. These cases show how human rights have helped improve the lives of ordinary individuals, and how we never know when we might need the protection of human rights.

Sarah, Sam and Sophie remind us how human rights are relevant to all of us. BIHR is working hard to spread the word about human rights in local communities across the UK via our Human Rights Tour. We will be visiting towns and cities across the UK this autumn holding free to attend one-day events on human rights. We would love to see you there. Dates and locations will be available shortly on our website, so watch this space!

To listen to the radio programme please click here.

To see a recent blog by BIHR Human Rights Champion Sam Bond on the human rights of older people, click here.

Human Rights Training: It wasn’t dull or boring!

This guest post has been written by Sam Bond, Advocacy Manager, Age UK Brighton & Hove.

 

 

In March staff at Age UK Brighton & Hove (AUKBH), including frontline workers and managers, received a day of human rights training kindly delivered by Sophie Howes at BIHR. The training covered the origins and principles of human rights laws, human rights law in the UK, the types of rights we have and the rights which are particularly relevant to older people. In the afternoon the Advocacy team discussed some case studies and ways of raising human rights issues. So why did we need this training?

 

At AUKBH we work with people age 50 plus, but the majority of our clients are over 80. We support older people to maximise wellbeing, maintain independence and exercise choice. We provide a number of services; including Advocacy, Crisis Service, Horizons social re-enablement service, Information & Advice and Nail-cutting; where workers visit people in their own homes. We frequently come into contact with clients who are receiving health or social care services.

 

Older people are more likely than other age groups to need health and social care services. More people over 75 experience emergency hospital admissions than any other group. Yet older people often don’t know they have rights that they can use to challenge poor and undignified treatment by service providers. The Human Rights Act can be used to protect our clients in situations such as being in hospital or receiving a care service, and to ensure they have equitable access to services.

 

The human rights training will help AUKBH workers to identify situations where there are potential human rights issues for their clients. Workers can refer these clients to AUKBH Advocacy Service. An independent advocate can support clients to make sure their views and wishes are heard and help them secure their rights. They can support people to challenge a decision or make a complaint. The training will help us to influence the treatment and care of the older people we come into contact with. It will help us to raise awareness of the relevance of human rights to people who are more vulnerable.

 

I had promised colleagues at Age UK Brighton & Hove that the training wouldn’t be dull or boring and I was certainly vindicated in that! The lively discussion in the afternoon really helped bring the subject matter to life. Since the training some of our advocates have already had occasion to use human rights language when advocating for clients.

 

Sam Bond, Advocacy Manager, Age UK Brighton & Hove.

Sam Bond is a BIHR Local Human Rights Champion. This involves helping to raise awareness about human rights and their relevance to local people.