What the act means for academics

September 29, 2000

Most articles of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms are incorporated into British law from October 2 under the The Human Rights Act 1998.

The act requires "public authorities" to comply with the convention.

Articles that could affect universities and colleges include:

* Article 3: "No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment." This could be breached in extreme cases of sex, race and disability discrimination.

* Article 6: "In the determination of his civil rightsI everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal." This could spell the end of the visitor system.

* Article 8: "Everyone has the right to respect for private and family life, his home and correspondence." This article could be used to challenge CCTV surveillance and the monitoring of emails and telephone calls.

* Article 9: "Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion." The UK has no legal protection against discrimination on religious grounds. This article could change that.

* Article 10: "Everyone has the right to freedom of expression." This includes the right to "hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority".

Academic freedom is enshrined in the Further and Higher Education Act 1992, but this article may affect whistleblowing policies and could conflict with the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1999, which protects only certain types of disclosure. Article 10 could be used to challenge confidentiality clauses in contracts.

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