General Legal Rights

The older you get, the more likely you are to experience a legal problem. Yet successive research studies show that younger people may be less likely to know about their essential rights and entitlements, or where to go for advice if something goes wrong. Here are some useful starting points.


Your right to take part in public life

Your right to vote is enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights and is a way of protecting your freedom of expression. You can register to vote in the UK if you are over 18, a British, Irish or European Union citizen, or a Commonwealth citizen who has leave to enter or remain in the UK, or who does not require such leave:

As a student, you can be on the electoral register at your home address as well as your term-time address, if they are different, but you can only place one vote in each election or referendum. You can vote in elections or referendums in person or vote by post, which might be more convenient if you live away from home:


Your human rights

The Convention ( also provides that you have the right to:

Respect for your private and family life, your home and your correspondence (Article 8)

freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change your religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest your religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance. Beliefs do not need to be religious in nature to be protected – they can include such things as atheism, agnosticism, veganism and pacifism (Article 9).

Hold your own opinions and to express them freely without government interference – this also means you have a duty to behave responsibly and to respect other people’s rights (Article 10).

Freedom of assembly and association – that means you can form and be part of a trade union, a political party or any another association or voluntary group, attend a protest, and so on. Equally, nobody can force you to join any of these groups or activities (Article 11).

The Human Rights Act 1998 says that courts in England and Wales must give effect to laws made here in a way that is compatible with your Convention rights, so far as it is possible. You will still have your rights under the Convention after Brexit or if the Human Rights Act is repealed in the future.


Your rights in relation to the Police

The police can stop and question you at any time. A police community support officer must be in uniform when they stop and question you. A police officer doesn’t always have to be in uniform but if they’re not wearing uniform you should ask to see their warrant card. A police officer might stop you and ask your name, what you’re doing in the area and where you’re going. You don’t have to stop and/or answer, and if you do not and there is no other reason to suspect you this can’t be used on its own as a reason to search or arrest you. A police officer has powers to stop and search you but only if they have reasonable grounds. For more details on police powers see:


Hate Incidents and Hate Crime

hate incident is defined by the Crown Prosecution Service as hostility to another person, which the person targeted believes was motivated by their

disability race religion sexual orientation or transgender identity (these are all “protected characteristics”).

Even if you do not actually have the characteristic the hostile person thinks you do (e.g. you are not a particular religion or race), it can still count as a hate incident.

Hostility can include such things as verbal abuse (including offensive jokes), intimidation, threats, harassment, assault and bullying, as well as damage to property.

Sometimes hate incidents cross over into being hate crimes – for example, if someone sends you hate mail, or assaults you.

Hate incidents can include spoken words, but there is no single law prohibiting “hate speech”. However, a number of different laws prohibit actions – for example, using words to incite hatred to people belonging to a particular race.

Citizens Advice have a useful guide to hate incidents and hate crime for further information:

JMSU Advice Service is a registered Hate Crime Reporting Centre: 



The Equality Act 2010 states that a person is deemed to have harassed you if they engage in unwanted conduct in relation to your:



gender reassignment;


religion or belief;

sex; or

sexual orientation

and the conduct has the purpose or effect of violating your dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for you.

Unwanted behaviour could include things like spoken or written abuse (on paper or on social media), physical gestures or “banter” you find offensive.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission has useful information about harassment and other matters:


If you think you need legal advice you can contact the free, confidential legal advice service in the School of Law: . You can also get in touch with a local solicitor if you need: