Personal Freedom: The Right to Behave How You Want
There has always been talk of human rights. Lengthy discussion of how the Government and its various departments were breaching human rights for the sake of money or political ideology. It makes for a stirring sound-bite and catchy headlines that, however, tend to do little to further the cause of human rights as an ideal or to let the general public know what their rights actually are.
What is Personal Freedom?If you ask any person on the street what they think is meant by ‘personal freedom’ you will probably get varied responses; from smoking in public places to physical freedom. However, within the area of human rights law the concept of personal freedom is more serious.
The Human Rights Act 1998 came onto the statute books in October 2000 and has placed much needed clarity into the law governing human and civil rights. However it doesn’t just mean we can do what we want when we want, there are provisos.
Our Basic RightsWe need to remember that the law essentially governs the relationship between private citizens (us) and the state (or their contractors and subsidiaries); it does not apply to disagreements between people. Therefore, we cannot take an action against our neighbours or the ordinary man in the street, irrespective of the fact that they may have behaved in a way which caused a breach of our civil rights. There may be a time, in the future, when the law evolves sufficiently to allow private actions but, for now, private individuals must rely on the laws governing Tort, Contract and Personal Injury, to name a few.
Personal freedom in the context of human rights guarantees that the state has a responsibility to:
- Protect us from torture and degradation
- Protect us from slavery or forced or compulsory labour
- Guarantee us a fair trial and effective remedy in case of breach of our rights
- Ensure our right to liberty, freedom of thought and freedom of expression
- Protect us from discrimination and prohibit abuse of our rights
This is not an exhaustive list but you get the idea. Our civil rights have been protected and allow us to do what we want without fear of restriction or reprisal from those that govern us.
But...This does not in any way mean that we can merrily do EXACTLY what we please. It is a sad fact that there are some members of our society that believe that their personal freedom includes helping themselves to everyone else’s possessions and property or behaving in a violent manner, just because their human rights are protected does not mean that they can carry on in this way.
So, within the remit of our human rights we need to be aware of the rest of the laws which govern our lives and behaviour. What this means essentially is that, for instance, although we have the civil freedom to have our own thoughts and religious beliefs; we are not permitted to use those thoughts, and opinions, no matter how strongly we may hold them to incite civil unrest or riot, or to discriminate against anyone whose opinion is contrary to ours.
Similarly, we cannot enforce our human rights if the enforcement would cause a wider breach. In this way the Courts must consider the wider community or public interest when considering whether it would be equitable to find in favour of an individual in an action through the courts.
What all of this basically comes down to is that we do have personal freedom, within the remit of the law, to govern our lives and behave as we wish without interference from the state. The Government cannot tell us what to think or how to run our private lives. Nor can they treat us unfairly or in a manner which would breach our rights. On top of all of this, if we wish to, the state has given us the means by which we can take action to protect our rights, privately and as a society.