Customer Service Manual - Section 9 : Human Rights Act

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Human Rights Act 1998

When did the Act come into force?

2nd October 2000.

Purpose of the Act

To incorporate into English domestic law the rights and freedoms guaranteed under the European Convention on Human Rights ("the Convention") set out in Schedule 1 to the Act. It will allow people to claim their rights under the ECHR in UK courts and tribunals instead of having to go to The European Court in Strasbourg

Who must comply with the Act?

The Act makes it unlawful for a public authority to act incompatibly with the convention rights. However, a public authority will not have acted unlawfully under the Act if as a result of a provision of primary legislation it could not have acted differently. The Convention is directly enforceable against:

  • Public bodies, including courts and tribunals but not Parliament
  • Courts and tribunals must act in accordance with the Convention when deciding issues before them. This may include remedying Convention breaches in the course of private disputes.
  • When determining questions arising under the Act, courts and tribunals must take into account the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights and the Commission.
  • Courts and tribunals cannot strike down primary legislation (or secondary legislation which has had to be drafted in the way that it is because of a provision of primary legislation), which is incompatible with the Convention, but the High Court and higher courts can make a declaration of incompatibility. Parliament then has discretion to remove the incompatibility by a fast track procedure (section 2). Courts can, however, quash or strike down other secondary legislation.
  • Bodies with mixed public and private functions, in relation to acts of a public nature. This will include companies responsible for areas for activity previously in the public sector such as public utilities and many regulatory bodies.
  • Businesses carrying out public functions will have to take care to comply with the Convention in the exercise of these functions.
  • The Act will safeguard the rights of individuals and businesses who are investigated or regulated by public authorities.

Articles most likely to apply to the Valuation Office

Article 6: the right to a fair trial which, includes the right to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law. This article impacts on the operation of Valuation Tribunals and on other situations where the Agency or its staff acts in a quasi-judicial capacity. Whether article 6 applies depends upon whether valuation disputes are public law matters or involve civil law rights. If, as can be contended, the former, then Article 6 will not apply.

Article 8: the right to respect private and family life, home and correspondence. The exercise of this right may be interfered with provided any interference is in accordance with the law and necessary in a democratic society for, among other things, the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. The interference must be for a legitimate aim and proportionate. This article could apply to the inspection of properties and requests for information.

Article 1 of the First Protocol: the right to peaceful enjoyment of possessions. No one is to be deprived of his property except in the public interest and subject to conditions provided for by law. The State can however enforce such laws it deems necessary to control the use of property in accordance with the general interest or to secure the payment of taxes. This article applies to HM Revenue and Customs and the Billing Authorities when pursuing the payment of taxes and rates.

In determining whether an interference is necessary in a democratic society, the courts will apply two key concepts:

Proportionality - requires that a fair balance be struck between the rights of individuals and the legitimate interests of the community; and

Margin of discretion - courts and tribunals may defer to the opinion of bodies carrying out public functions where their special expertise means that they are better placed to decide between competing interests.

Bringing proceedings under the Act

  • A victim of an act which is unlawful under the Convention can bring proceedings in the appropriate court or tribunal and can rely on Convention rights in any legal proceedings against a public authority (section 7).
  • The limitation period for bringing proceedings is normally one year. Proceedings can only be brought in relation to acts committed after 2 October 2000.
  • Convention rights can be raised as a defence whenever the act in question occurred.

Remedies available

The Act gives the court wide powers to grant such relief, remedies or orders, including damages, within its powers as it considers just and appropriate (section 8).

Human Rights Challenges

What should I do if I receive a complaint that the way we/I have handled a customer’s affairs is in breach of their human rights?

If you receive a complaint about the way you or a colleague have carried out VOA business – then, provided the case was handled in accordance with current departmental procedures and guidelines, it is unlikely that the customer’s human rights will have been breached. This does not mean however that you should not treat the complaint seriously. You need to consider the complaint made and deal with it in accordance with the VOA’s complaints procedure, as set out in ‘putting things right for you’

If, after considering the complaint, you do not think there has been a breach of the customer's human rights then if it is a general challenge that we have breached human rights i.e. a specific article of the Convention has not been quoted you may respond along the following lines:

“Our procedures have been examined by HM Revenue and Customs lawyers and are found to comply with the European Convention on Human Rights. We believe that (...............procedure that is the subject of the complaint) does not breach human rights law. If you are unhappy with this view then please let me know giving details of which Article(s) of the European Convention on Human Rights you believe the procedure breaches and how.”

If the customer responds citing a specific article of the European Convention on Human Rights, or if the initial complaints cites a specific article then please contact your GCSM, or the Customer Service Team at CEO, who will help you respond

If these do not answer the complaint, if you need further help or advice, or if you are concerned there has been a breach of human rights then please contact your GCSM.

Please record ALL challenges you receive under either the Human Rights Act or the European Convention on Human Rights as part of normal complaint monitoring, on the Customer Contact Record (CCR). Please also record as a challenge any complaint where human rights are raised, even if that is not the main reason for the complaint.

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