Becoming a UK citizen is about more than a piece of paper or attending a citizenship ceremony. All those living as citizens of the UK have certain rights and responsibilities which must be observed and respected.
The UK does not have a written constitution as such. However, over many hundreds of years certain rights and responsibilities have become enshrined either through common law, statute law, European law or simply through custom and practice. The Human Rights Act 1989 gave effect in the UK to the European Convention on Human Rights which sets out the fundamental human rights deemed to apply to all citizens.
The Legal Rights of a UK Citizen
Underlying many of the rights and responsibilities of UK citizens is a sense of fairness which is central to life in the UK. Essentially UK citizens are permitted to live and work as they wish so long as they do not harm or interfere with the rights of others.
The relevant law in the UK is often far less prescriptive than in some other countries. For example, the right to free speech is considered by many to be central to the concept of being British. Many UK citizens believe passionately that this right overrides all other considerations including the offence or threat that may be posed by some citizens when exercising this right.
All UK citizens have the right to be treated fairly and equally regardless of their gender, race, age, religion, sexual preferences, political persuasion or any disability that they may have. UK citizens must respect the rights of their fellow citizens even if they find their way of life objectionable or offensive.
Specific rights also apply to children, employees, those with disabilities and married couples or those in civil partnerships. A parent’s rights to make decisions in respect of their children are not automatic and are derived from the concept of “parental responsibility”.
Freedom of Information
Since January 2005 all UK citizens have had the right to demand access to information about them held by public organisations. This right was introduced pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act 2000. The types of organisations covered by the Act include schools, doctors, hospitals and the police.
To exercise this right, a written request should be sent to the relevant organisation setting out the information that is required – requests should be as specific as possible. In some cases the organisation may charge a nominal fee and should provide the information within approximately a month if able to do so. Some information is exempt from disclosure. There are a number of reasons why this may be the case including national security and parliamentary or legal privilege.
The Responsibilities of UK Citizens
As well as enjoying these rights all UK citizens have a responsibility to respect the rights of others. UK citizens must also obey UK laws and regulations. UK citizens who are parents must protect and care for their children until they are at least 16 and must ensure that all children between the ages of 5 and 16 attend full-time education.
Withdrawal of UK Citizenship
Foreign nationals who have become naturalised British citizens should be aware that this is a privilege which can be revoked. The UK Border Agency can take away a person’s British citizenship at any time if they consider that it would be in the public interest to do so. UK citizenship that is found to have been acquired by fraud, through false statements or by the applicant having concealed relevant information will be withdrawn. The formal term for this is deprivation of citizenship.
In cases where citizenship should never have been granted in the first place or was granted in error, it may be treated as a “nullity”. The effect is as if the individual was never a UK citizen. In the case of either deprivation or nullity the individual may subsequently face deportation from the UK.