2 Starting to think about rights and responsibilities
Throughout this course we will be considering rights and responsibilities that are provided by, protected by and imposed by the law. These range from rights and responsibilities that are fundamental to all of our lives to rights and responsibilities that apply to particular aspects of our lives when we are undertaking a specific role, for example as a worker or a parent. Practical examples will be used to help explain this. The examples will also show, importantly, that in many instances where the law provides us with rights on the one hand, it also imposes responsibilities on the other. For example, an employer has a responsibility to pay an employee for work done and an employee has the right to claim unpaid wages. An employee also has a responsibility to obey reasonable, lawful orders while an employer may be able to dismiss an employee for failure to obey such orders.
The law describes a person able to exercise their rights and responsibilities as having legal capacity. Having legal capacity means that a person has the mental capacity to understand and appreciate the consequences of their actions. Although all individuals have basic rights from the time they are born, the law determines that children and young people acquire more rights and responsibilities as they mature and their mental capacity develops.
Equally, when mental capacity is lost through illness or accident in later life, the law recognises that legal capacity is also affected, and allows others to make decisions for individuals who cannot understand the consequences of their actions.
Law is involved in a balancing act between the rights of different individuals and therefore imposes responsibilities to balance those rights. The following tables illustrate this question of balance.
If you are employed then you have a contractual relationship with your employer. In law, your employer has a responsibility for your health and safety; in return you have a responsibility not to risk the health and safety of others in your workplace.
Table 1 Health and safety rights and responsibilities for workers
|Workers have the right:||Workers have the responsibility:|
Whenever you buy anything as a consumer you are entering into a contract which is a legally binding agreement. In doing so, you have certain rights and responsibilities, set out in Table 2. If you use public rights of way in the countryside, you have the rights and responsibilities set out in Table 3.
Table 2 Rights and responsibilities for consumers
The goods you buy must be:
If not, then:
Table 3 Rights and responsibilities for users of public rights of way
From these tables you can see that there is a balance between rights and responsibilities. When exercising their rights, individuals also need to recognise the rights of others. A balance is needed and with rights come responsibilities. The following example might help to explain this. Children have a right to education. Local authorities have a legal responsibility to provide education for all children of compulsory school age in their area (5- to 16-year-olds) which is appropriate to their age, abilities and any special educational needs that they might have.
Schoolchildren have a responsibility not to disrupt lessons so that other pupils are prevented from receiving their right to education.