As part of the United Kingdom, the fundamental rights of people in Northern Ireland are protected under the Human Rights Act 1998. These rights not only affect matters of life and death, like freedom from torture and killing, but also affect your rights in everyday life.
Your human rights are:
- the right to life
- freedom from torture and degrading treatment
- freedom from slavery and forced labour
- the right to liberty
- the right to a fair trial
- the right not to be punished for something that wasn't a crime when you did it
- the right to respect for private and family life
- freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and freedom to express your beliefs
- freedom of expression
- freedom of assembly and association
- the right to marry and to start a family
- the right not to be discriminated against in respect of these rights and freedoms
- the right to peaceful enjoyment of your property
- the right to an education
- the right to take part in free elections
- the right not to be subjected to the death penalty
You have a responsibility to respect the rights of other people. This means not exercising your rights in a way which is likely to stop someone else from being able to exercise theirs.
Governments do have the power to limit or control these rights in times of severe need or emergency.
If any of these rights and freedoms are abused you have a right to seek a solution through the law, even if the abuse was by someone in authority, like a government official or a police officer.
It's always a good idea to see if the problem can be resolved without going to court by using mediation or an internal complaints body. But where you believe you cannot resolve the problem outside court, you have the right to bring a case before the appropriate court or tribunal.
Marriage, civil partnerships and living together
There is a lot of information and advice available on the practical and legal issues surrounding getting married, living together and civil partnerships for same sex couples.
Marriage and civil partnership
All marriages and civil partnerships need to be registered for the legal rights to come into force. This affects several areas including tax, benefits and if your marriage or partnership breaks down you may need to provide reasonable maintenance for your partner and any children.
The Civil Partnership Act 2004 enables same-sex couples to get legal recognition of their relationship. Couples who form a civil partnership have a new legal status, that of 'civil partner'.
Civil partners have equal treatment to married couples in a wide range of legal matters, including:
- tax, including inheritance tax
- employment benefits
- most state and occupational pension benefits
- income-related benefits, tax credits and child support
- duty to provide reasonable maintenance for your civil partner and any children of the family
- ability to apply for parental responsibility for your civil partner's child
- inheritance of a tenancy agreement
- recognition under intestacy rules
- access to fatal accidents compensation
- protection from domestic violence
- recognition for immigration and nationality purposes
Most people think that after they've been living with their partner for a couple of years, they become 'common law husband and wife' with the same rights as married couples. This is not the case. There is no such thing as 'common law marriage'.
In fact, couples who live together, also called co-habitants, have hardly any of the same rights as married couples or civil partners.
Legal and financial problems can arise if you decide to separate, or if one of you dies. While you do have legal protection in some areas, you should take steps to protect yourself and your partner.
Divorce and separation
Getting a divorce or having your civil partnership dissolved can affect your rights.
Find out more about getting a divorce or dissolving a civil partnership
Parents do not automatically have rights over their children. These rights depend on 'parental responsibility’. If as parents of a child you are married to each other, or you have jointly adopted the child, then you both have parental responsibility. This is not automatically the case for civil partners or unmarried fathers.
Mothers, whether married or not, are always deemed to have 'parental responsibility' for their children.
Find out more about parents' and children's rights
Men and women both have a right to be safe in their own homes and are entitled to the same level of help, support and protection. It doesn't matter if you are married, living together as a straight or same-sex couple or you are in a civil partnership.
Domestic violence is not acceptable under any circumstances.
If you are thinking about leaving an abusive relationship and are worried about your safety and that of your child, there is help available, whatever your relationship status.
Find out more about domestic abuse.
If you are employed in work, even if it is part-time, temporary or fixed term, you are entitled to certain rights. In some cases there may be conditions to these rights, but there are processes in place to make sure you have fair treatment. Your rights cover issues such as:
- the length of your contract
- the length of your employment
- part-time work
You also have responsibilities as an employee according to the terms of your contract.
You also have a right not to be discriminated against or harassed on grounds of your religious belief and / or political opinion, sex, race, sexual orientation, age or disability in employment or occupation.
People with disabilities
You can find information on the rights of people with disabilities at the link below. This includes information about the Disability Discrimination Act and rights about access to goods and services, employment, health and education.
Children and young people
Under the United Nation's Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) all children and young people aged 17 and under have certain basic human rights. These include the right to life, nationality, contact with parents and also freedom of expression and the right to have their views respected.
Certain basic rights apply more and become more relevant to you as you get older. These include rights in terms of pensions and benefits, as well as your right to certain services.
The Employment Equality (Age) Regulations (NI) 2006 formalised your right to be treated fairly in employment and work-related training and not to be discriminated against because of your age. Other rights apply specifically as you approach retirement.
As a carer, there are some specific rights that relate to. These include employment rights, the right to an assessment and receipt of direct payments.
If you are a young carer, there is extra support available to make sure you:
- don't have to carry out a regular and large amount of caring for a person with disabilities
- don't take on similar levels of caring responsibilities as an adult
Local authorities should make sure that the education, development and general well-being of young carers is not affected by caring responsibilities.