In this bitesized article, I shall explain exactly what Article 8 of the Human Rights Act means, just how much it covers and what this means for the general population. This article in the Act forms part of a long list of rights which every person is granted, such as the right to life, a fair trial, freedom of expression, liberty and security, and so the list goes on. As well as respect for your private and family life, this article also provides respect for your house and correspondance, be that via email, letters, phone calls and texts, or ortherwise. What exactly is meant by this, though?
What is Meant by Private Life?
This can be open to interpretation as to what exactly is covered under this, and what exactly providing respect for such things entails, but the general idea is that you are free to go about your private life, enjoying it however you see fit, without government interference. This includes a wide variety of things, such as how you dress and present yourself, your lifestyle, being able to determine your own sexuality, what you listen to, read and watch, who can touch you and when and who you see and when. This means that permission is required for certain things, for example taking blood, taking your clothes off, participation is social constructions etc. However, there are times in which authorities may need to help you in order for you to enjoy being a part of society, for ecample; this is something which is also covered in the Article. It also means that private and confidential information about you cannot be shared without your permission, barring a few circumstances in which it is vital that the information is shared (e.g. for national security, your own welfare etc.).
What is Meant by Family Life?
Well, mercifully this isn't as wide ranging and ambiguous as the definition of private life, mainly focusing around your right to live with your family and contact them freely, without government interference. However, family life does not have to be those who are family by blood, with adopted children, foster parents, adoptive parents and unmarried couples all protected under this Article as well. This part of the article goes hand-in-hand with Article 12, the right to marry, providing freedom from government interference for married couples too.
What is Classed as 'Home' Then?
The good news is that regardless of whether you own your home or not, you are covered by this Article. Better still is that there is a second piece of legislation within the Act (Article 1 of The First Protocol: Protection of Property) which gives further freedom to peacefully enjoy your property without interference from authorities without a very good reason. Being able to enjoy your home means largely the same as defined in this Protocol, meaning that permission is required to enter your home, even if you don't own it. You are also protected so that you can expect to be able to enjoy you land. For example, it must be considered what impact would be had on residents enjoyment of their garden if a new development is being planned.
When Can These Rights Be Restricted?
Whenever these rights are to be restricted or removed from a person, the authority carrying it out must be able to prove that doing so is necessary, lawful and a proportionate response (meaning that it's the minimum amount of intrusion needed to address the issue). The following are examples of when Article 8 can be restricted or removed from someone, namely to:
protect national security
protect public safety
protect the economy
protect health or morals
prevent disorder or crime, or
protect the rights and freedoms of other people.
An example of this is the case of R (on the application of Purdy) v DPP, in which Article 8 was argued as showing the illegitimacy of the Suicide Act and the legal consequences for assisting in suicide. The bare-bones facts were that the claimant, Purdy, had a terminal progressive illness and as such, when her life became unbearable, wanted her husband to assist her to a clinic abroad to end her life. However, when she asked the DPP for guidelines to establish if her husband would be liable to be prosecuted, they refused to co-operate. As a result, Purdy believed her right to respect in private life was thus infringed under Article 8 of the convention. Interestingly, despite all previous courts rejecting Purdy’s case, Lord Hope, in the House of Lords, concluded that the DPP must publish offence-specific policy to help gauge the likelihood of prosecution, whilst also mirroring the view of the Strasbourg Court by stating:
“Respect for a person's ‘private life’, which is the only part of art.8(1) which is in play here, relates to the way a person lives. The way she chooses to pass the closing moments of her life is part of the act of living, and she has the right to ask that this too must be respected. In that respect Mrs Pretty [had and Ms. Purdy has] a right of self-determination. In that sense, her private life is engaged even where in the face of a terminal illness she seeks to choose death rather than life.”