OPINION: Thinkpiece - It's time human rights were put on the agenda

Jenny Watson, an independent human rights consultant

What does human rights have to do with charity service providers? Here's just one example I heard about recently.

Staff in a scheme designed to promote independent living found it hard to deal with an older resident. He would sleep during the day, and then in the evening would be awake and wandering about.

So staff locked him out of his flat during the day to make sure he was tired at night. Yet this was his flat, with the tenancy in his name.

That's a potential violation of the right to respect for privacy and home life, which is protected by the Human Rights Act.

If you're a service provider it's essential to make the Act part of your organisation's decision-making process. And it's not only the board that needs to be aware of it: frontline staff have a critical responsibility for protecting people's human rights. Their day-to-day actions need to take place within a human rights framework.

Of course the type of poor practice I've referred to could be easily avoided by using a checklist approach. Before making the final decisions about your internal policy or a new procedure, a human rights checklist helps you to identify whether any rights could be affected - and whose rights those are. In some cases you can, indeed perhaps should, restrict one person's rights to protect another's.

A checklist will prompt you to think about special obligations you might have to protect people's rights, and the kind of risk management systems that are in place to make sure you can take action to do this if necessary.

And it will help you understand how to balance different people's rights.

If one resident wants to be awake at night, how might that affect others living close by, and what might you do to protect their rights, in turn?

Crucially, it does all this from an organisational perspective, making you consider who should take responsibility within the team to protect people's rights.

If that sounds like a new way of working, perhaps it's time human rights reached your organisational agenda. In more and more complaints about service provision, clients and their representatives raise the Human Rights Act.

You, too, need to be informed.

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