Who Cares?

No. 33 of #50cases

An increasing number of private companies are doing important jobs that the used to be the role of government. Do human rights laws apply to them?

This case involved an elderly woman, known as YL, suffering from Alzheimer’s, who required constant care. As part of their duty to arrange care for their constituents, Birmingham City Council was partly paying for YL to live in a care home run by Southern Cross Healthcare Ltd, the rest of the money being contributed by YL’s family. Due to anti-social behavior displayed by member’s of YL’s family when they visited, Southern Cross terminated their contract with YL, something which was allowed according to the original agreement with her.

YL felt that doing so was a violation of her right to family life and took the case to the House of Lords, then the UK’s highest court. Since it is only public bodies who are bound by human rights law in the UK, the key question in the case was whether it would also apply to Southern Cross as well, seeing as they were the ones carrying out the duty to care for YL owed by Birmingham City Council, who were obviously a public body.

The Court ruled that human rights law did not bind Southern Cross as they are not a public body in these circumstances. But that wasn’t the end of the story. The court suggested that it was Parliament to extend human rights protections if they saw fit. The judgment was widely criticised, and in the end Parliament did indeed change the law to extend protections from abuse to those receiving public care from private companies.

This story is a short summary of a legal decision. You can read the full text here

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