Tag Archives: What are Public Authorities/bodies ?

What are Public Authorities/bodies ?

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

Housing Associations

Poplar Housing and Regeneration Community Association Ltd v Donoghue [2001]

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

or tribunal’.

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.