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‘Public authorities’ in Human Rights Act

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Last updated 7th December, 2008.

‘This page looks at who are ‘public authorities’ for the purposes of the Human Rights Act. An action for breach of the Convention under Sections 6 and 7 Human Rights Act can only be brought against a ‘public authority’. However, the Convention is often still relevant for other claims. For the context, see main European Convention page.

There are now various decided cases on what counts as a ‘public authority’. The following is only a broad overview.

‘Core’ public authorities

‘Public authority’ includes firstly bodies which are are ‘obviously’ public authorities, such as central and local government and the police.

The Court of Appeal has considered that the headteacher and governors at maintained schools are core public authorities (Ali v Headteachers and Governors of Lord Grey School [2004]).

Public authorities include courts, and also tribunals exercising functions in relation to legal proceedings (s.6(3)(a)(b), s.21 HRA).

‘Hybrid’ public authorities

‘Public authority’ also includes a person certain of whose functions are of a public nature, except so far as the nature of the particular act in question is private (s.6(3)(c), (5) HRA).

What bodies are covered by this provision was given a rather restrictive interpretation by the House of Lords in YL v Birmingham City Council (disabilityrightsuk.org), 2007. It is not enough to be simply a company to whom certain public functions have been contracted out.

Most employment matters may be ‘private’ acts, and therefore outside of a s.6 claim in the case of ‘hybrid’ public authorities. However, employment matters or other private acts of a ‘core’ public authority, such as central and local governement or the police, can be claimed for under s.6.

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