The Governments right to Interfere

In the United Kingdom, prior to the Human Rights Act 1998 it was believed that an individual was free beyond minimal restrictions, to do or say whatever they wished without any interference from the state or the police. This was regarded as a natural residual attribute of citizenship reflecting the proper distribution of power and liberty in a free society, where the only aspects of human conduct that needed restriction were to protect certain public interests e.g.  National security and defense, prevention of crime and disorder, and the maintenance of public morality.

The Human Rights Act 1998, read and interpreted  in conjunction with the European Convention on Human Rights establishes three broad categories of rights that are distinguished by the grounds and the extent to which the state can restrict them. The absolute rights in the first category cover the prohibition of slavery, the prohibition of torture, no punishment without legal adjudication, freedom of thought, conscience and religion. The government has no right to interfere or restrict these rights under any circumstances, whatever may be perceived as pressing public or social interest.

Limited rights in the second category include the right to life, liberty, the right to a fair trial and security of the person. The Articles concerned, from the Convention, specify the strictly limited circumstances where these rights may be subject to restrictions.

Finally the Conventions qualified rights fill the third category. Here the interference of the state is not defined precisely. Any restrictions imposed must be based on clear legal authority and in proportion to the legitimate aims of the Convention e.g. crime prevention, keeping public order or health. There is a degree of flexibility in how the Convention is applied at national level. Public morality has a considerable margin of variance in application as it is seen to be of a dynamic disposition and that the circumstances of change are better judged by the country’s own state authority. This also applies when dealing with measures regarding national security and social and economic policies.

Any restrictions on these qualified rights must be directed at the public interest recognized by the particular Article. Articles 8 -11 have a public interest in public safety; protection of public order; health or morals and the rights and freedoms of other people. Other legitimate aims include national security, prevention of crime, the economic well-being of the country, territorial integrity, confidentiality and the reputation of the judiciary.

As becomes evident from the lists of restrictions a person can suffer legitimate government interference if their personal, non-criminal behavior falls within any of these categories, particularly if the behavior has a negative impact on another member of society.