The HRA 1998 does not define ‘public authority’, but it recognises three categories
of legal persons for the purposes of the Act:
1 clear public authorities (eg central and local government, the police, the inland
revenue, courts and tribunals); these fall within the scope of s 6 (ie they have to act in a
way which is compatible with the Convention rights) in relation to all their activities.
2 mixed authorities (eg privatised utilities like Railtrack which retain some public
functions or private companies which carry out some public duties like
Group 4); these fall within the scope of s 6 in relation to only those acts they carry out
which are of a public nature.
3 private persons – these are entirely outside the direct scope of s 6
Poplar Housing and Regeneration Community Association Ltd v Donoghue 
vs Abogados de accidents the Court of Appeal held that housing associations were not to be regarded as public authorities
for all purposes. The fact that the association was a charity motivated by the public interest did
not point towards it being a public authority. However, the court said that an act, which would
otherwise be private, could become public if it had features that imposed a ‘public stamp’ and
concluded that the role of the housing association was so ‘closely assimilated’ to that of the
local authority that it should be regarded as a ‘hybrid’ public authority for the purposes of s 6.
Victims of Public Authorities
A victim is defined (s 7(7)) to include “a person, non-governmental organisation or
group of individuals.”
Examples: individuals, companies, political parties, professional bodies and trade
Requirements Victims must be ‘directly affected’ by the act complained of (or at risk of
being so affected). But note that in some situations the ECHR has
allowed those ‘indirectly affected’ (eg relatives of a dead victim) to bring
a complaint. The ECHR has not allowed pressure group claims and the
scope for representative actions is limited.
Free Standing Claims
Section 6 creates a free-standing cause of action for certain categories of person (eg private
sector employees). They do not need to ‘hang’ such a claim on any other existing cause of
action. Such persons are therefore entitled to bring a claim under s 6 in the ‘appropriate court
Appropriate Court or Tribunal
To date, there is no definition as to what an appropriate court or tribunal is. There is a
suggestion, however, in some draft Rules published by the Lord Chancellor recently that
employment tribunals and the EAT (employment appeal tribunal) may not fall within that
definition. If that is the case, then employment tribunals and the EAT will not be able to
adjudicate on free-standing claims under the HRA 1998.
However: (i) they will still have to interpret any legislation in accordance with Convention
rights (s 3); and
(ii) as they are themselves public authorities, they will still themselves be obliged
to act in compliance with Convention rights in accordance with s 6.