Eight reasons why we need the Human Rights Act

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The Independent Online

The Race Victim: Zahid Mubarek

The family of Zahid Mubarek, a 19-year-old youth offender who was murdered by his racist cellmate, won a ruling in 2003 ordering a public inquiry into the killing. The law lords ruled that the then Home Secretary, David Blunkett, had wrongly refused to order the inquiry into how Mr Mubarek had been incarcerated with a hardened criminal. The judges ruled that under the Human Rights Act the state has a duty to protect a prisoner's right to life and also to investigate publicly a failure of the system. The inquiry reports this week.

The Bride: Karen Watts

Karen Watts, 29, and Martin Reijns, 27, won the right to be married in a humanist ceremony without the need to attend a register office. Until then, couples who chose a humanist ceremony had to undergo a second, civil ceremony to make their union legal. In a landmark decision by the Registrar General for Scotland, 12 Registered Celebrants of the Humanist Society of Scotland, using the Human Rights Act, were authorised to conduct legal marriages. The change in Scotland recognised the right of humanists to equality with those who hold religious beliefs.

The Devoted Wife: Beryll Driscoll

Beryll and Richard Driscoll, now aged 90, married in 1940 and had been inseparable since he returned from war service in Burma. So when Mr Driscoll became ill and went to live in a care home his wife wanted to join him. But Gloucestershire social services stopped her, arguing she was able to look after herself even though she is registered blind. The family launched a campaign to reunite their parents. Using the Human Rights Act they managed to persuade the council to reverse its decision and offer Mrs Driscoll a subsidised place in the same care home as her husband.

The Schoolgirl: Shannon Powers

Two children are claiming a plan to set up one of the Government's flagship academies is a breach of their human rights. Shannon, 10, and her brother Connor, six - together with their mother, Hayley - say that the proposal to replace their primary school and its nearby secondary school in Islington, London, will rob them of their rights. They argue that the academy will not give them the same rights of admission as the existing state schools, or offer the same protection to children with special educational needs. Their case will be heard in the High Court next month.

The Murder Victim: Naomi Bryant

Anthony Rice, a violent sex offender with a string of convictions for attacking women, was released early from prison in 2004. Within nine months he murdered Naomi Bryant in Winchester, Hampshire, mother of Hannah, 15 (pictured). The victim's mother, Verna Bryant, is using the Human Rights Act to bring a case against the Government for failing to protect her daughter. Mrs Bryant will argue that the Home Office failed to give adequate consideration to the safety of the public when Rice was released.

The NHS Patient: Yvonne Watts

The 75-year-old grandmother from Bedford travelled to France in March 2003 to undergo hip replacement surgery. She paid the £3,800 cost of the operation after being told she would have to wait at least 15 months, later reduced to three months, for the surgery on the NHS. Her NHS trust refused to refund the money. But the European Court of Justice ruled under human rights legislation that she had suffered "undue delay" in receiving treatment. The Court of Appeal must now rule whether this makes Mrs Watts eligible for reimbursement.

The Bereaved Mother: Diane Blood

It wasn't until the introduction of the Human Rights Act that Ms Blood won her legal battle to have her dead husband, Stephen, recognised as the father of her two children, who were born using his frozen sperm. Under the previous fertility laws, when the frozen sperm of a man or an embryo created after his death is used, he was not considered the father of the child. However, in 2003 government lawyers accepted at the High Court that the law was "incompatible" with the European Convention on Human Rights. The law is now being amended.

The Dying Woman: Diane Pretty

The Human Rights Act enabled Mrs Pretty to press her case for voluntary euthanasia. She was suffering the final stages of motor neurone disease and wanted to die with dignity. Mrs Pretty, 43, argued that her husband should be immune from prosecution as her condition required the assistance of someone else. The European Court of Human Rights, in a judgment delivered shortly before her death in 2002, dismissed her claim. However, it was acknowledged that this complicated issue could not be resolved by the courts but would be better decided by Parliament.