Human Rights

Human Rights based approach

The Human Rights Act 1998 came into force in October 2000 and incorporates most of the rights protected under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). It must be considered in all UK courts, including mental health review tribunals. Public authorities, which include NHS bodies, have a duty to take steps to protect (‘positive obligations’) the human rights of individuals.

The Department of Health has identified five key aims of a human rights-based approach to healthcare:

1. putting human rights principles and standards at the heart of policy and planning;
2. empowering staff and patients with knowledge, skills, organisational leadership and commitment to achieve a human rights-based approach;
3. enabling meaningful involvement and participation of all key stakeholders;
4. ensuring clear accountability throughout the organisation;
5. non-discrimination and attention to vulnerable groups.

The FREDA principles

In essence, the human rights-based approach is the way in which human rights can be protected in clinical and organisational practice by adherence to the underlying core values of fairness, respect, equality, dignity and autonomy (FREDA).


This principle demands that due consideration is afforded to the person’s opinion, giving them the opportunity to have that point of view expressed, listened to and weighed, alongside other factors relevant to the decision to be taken.


Respect is the objective, unbiased consideration and regard for the rights, values, beliefs and property of other people. Respect applies to the person as well as their value systems and implies that these are fully considered before decisions which may overrule them are taken.


Many facets behindthe principle of equality, including non-discrimination, overlap with respect. The NHS itself was founded on the principles of equality of access and equality of treatment.


Dignity has been defined as ‘a state, quality or manner worthy of esteem or respect; and (by extension) self-respect. Dignity in care, therefore, means the kind of care, in any setting, which supports and promotes, and does not undermine, a person’s self-respect regardless of any difference’.


Autonomy is regarded as one of the four fundamental ethical principles of healthcare. It is the principle of self-determination whereby a person is allowed to make free choices about what happens to them – that is, the freedom to act and the freedom to decide, based on clear, sufficient and relevant information and opportunities, to participate in the decision-making.