Charter of Fundamental Rights

Introduction

The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union brings together the most important personal freedoms and rights enjoyed by citizens of the EU into one legally binding document. The Charter was declared in 2000, and came into force in December 2009 along with the Treaty of Lisbon.

The purpose of the Charter is to promote human rights within the territory of the EU. Many of the rights that are contained in the Charter were previously set out in:

  • The EU Treaties
  • The European Convention on Human Rights
  • Case law of the Court of Justice of the European Union
  • National constitutions (for example, the Constitution of Ireland)

The Charter has the same legal power as an EU Treaty. This means that it is superior to Irish domestic law. However, it only applies when Irish bodies (particularly the Irish Government) are implementing European Union law.

Contents of the Charter

The Convention is divided into chapters and articles. The 6 chapters are:

  • Dignity
  • Freedoms
  • Equality
  • Solidarity
  • Citizen’s rights
  • Justice

Dignity

Articles 1 to 5:

Article 1: Human dignity – everyone has the right to be treated with dignity.

Article 2: Right to life – everyone has the right to life, and the death penalty is forbidden.

Article 3: Right to integrity of the person – this includes medical consent and the prohibition of certain genetic practices.

Article 4: Prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Article 5: Prohibition of slavery and forced labour – this includes trafficking.

Freedoms

Articles 6 to 19 are concerned with freedoms:

Article 6: Right to liberty and security.

Article 7: Respect for private and family life.

Article 8: Protection of personal data - data should be processed fairly and for specified purposes and on the basis of consent or some other lawful basis.

Article 9: Right to marry and right to found a family – guaranteed in accordance with national laws.

Article 10: Freedom of thought, conscience and religion – this includes the right to publicly profess a religious belief and the right to change religious beliefs.

Article 11: Freedom of expression and information.

Article 12: Freedom of assembly and of association – including the right to join trade unions.

Article 13: Freedom of the arts and sciences – this includes academic freedom.

Article 14: Right to education – this includes the freedom for parents to have their children taught in accordance with religious (or other) beliefs.

Article 15: Freedom to choose an occupation and right to engage in work – for non EU citizens who have the right to work in the EU, they should have the same working conditions as EU citizens.

Article 16: Freedom to conduct a business.

Article 17: Right to property – property refers to possessions, and not just land and/or housing. This includes intellectual property.

Article 18: Right to asylum.

Article 19: Protection in the event of removal, expulsion or extradition – this includes the prohibition of removing a person to a country where they are at risk of being tortured (or other degrading or inhuman treatment).

Equality

Articles 20 to 26 are about equality and discrimination:

Article 20: Equality before the law.

Article 21: Non-discrimination – forbids discrimination on grounds of sex, race, colour, ethnic or social origin, genetic features, language, religion or other belief, political opinion, membership of a national minority, property, birth, disability, age or sexual orientation.

Article 22: Cultural, Religious and linguistic diversity – shall be respected.

Article 23: Equality between men and women – this does not prevent positive measures for to give advantages to the under-represented gender (in a workplace for example).

Article 24: The rights of the child – The child’s best interest must be the primary consideration when a decision is made by a public or private body on behalf of a child. Children have the right to maintain a regular personal relationship with their parents, unless it is not in the child’s best interests to do so.

Article 25: The rights of the elderly – to live a life of dignity and to participate in social and cultural life.

Article 26: Integration of persons with disabilities.

Solidarity

Article 27: Workers’ right to information and consultation within the undertaking – workers (or their representatives) must be consulted in situations that are covered by EU law (for example, transfer of undertakings).

Article 28: Right of collective bargaining and action – both employers and workers have the right to negotiate collective agreements, and to take collective decisions to protect their interests (for example, to take strike action).

Article 29: Right of access to placement services – free placement services should be available to assist people to look for work.

Article 30: Protection in the event of unjustified dismissal.

Article 31: Fair and just working conditions – this includes the right to safe working conditions, a maximum working week, rest periods and to annual leave.

Article 32: Prohibition of child labour and protection of young people at work - the minimum age for working cannot be below the minimum age for leaving school except in limited circumstances.

Article 33: Family and professional life – this includes the protection of pregnant workers and parents on maternity or parental leave.

Article 34: Social security and social assistance.

Article 35: Health care- under the conditions established by national law.

Article 36: Access to services of general economic interest – this allows member states to put in place extra assistance for disadvantaged areas.

Article 37: Environmental protection – policies of the EU should be sustainable.

Article 38: Consumer protection.

Citizens’ rights

Article 39: Right to vote and to stand as a candidate at elections to the European Parliament.

Article 40: Right to vote and to stand as a candidate at municipal elections – in Ireland, this means local elections.

Article 41: Right to good administration – this includes the right to have a say in any decision that would have a negative effect on you, the right to access your file, and the obligation for the State (or body making the decision) to give reasons for its decisions. For the EU institutions, this means that it should respond to citizen’s requests in the language of the citizen.

Article 42: Right of access to documents – this refers to documents held by any EU institution.

Article 43: Ombudsman – any person or company in the EU can refer cases of maladministration in the institutions of the EU to the European Ombudsman.

Article 44: Right to petition – any EU citizen or company can petition the European Parliament.

Article 45: Freedom of movement and of residence.

Article 46: Diplomatic and consular protection – if you are outside the EU in a country that does not have an Irish embassy or consulate (or an embassy of your EU nationality if you are not Irish), you are entitled to protection/assistance from another EU member state.

Justice

Article 47: Right to an effective remedy and to a fair trial – this includes a right to legal aid where you are deemed to lack sufficient resources.

Article 48: Presumption of innocence and right of defence – everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law, and a person charged with a crime is entitled to a defence.

Article 49: Principles of legality and proportionality of criminal offences and penalties – This includes prohibiting retrospective crimes and punishments (in other words, you cannot be punished for an offence that was not an offence at the time it was committed), punishments should be in proportion to the seriousness of the crime.

Article 50: Right not to be tried or punished twice in criminal proceedings for the same criminal offence.

The Charter and national law

The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union applies directly to Ireland. When the Irish government is implementing an EU law, it must do so in accordance to the rights contained in the Charter.

In Ireland, examples of when the Charter may be relevant include if:

  • The Oireachtas is legislating to transpose an EU Directive. EU Directives are EU laws that only come into effect when corresponding laws are passed by the national parliament. This means that each member state may interpret some aspects of the Directive differently, or might fail to correctly transpose the central laws of the Directive.
  • A European Arrest Warrant is executed.
  • A benefit or health service is applied for that is based on a person’s status as an EU worker.
  • The right to free movement is involved.

If an EU law is disobeyed in Ireland in a way that interferes with the rights of citizens as set out in the Charter, this could be dealt with by:

The Charter and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR)

The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) was signed in 1950. It was proclaimed by the Council of Europe, and is overseen by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

Ireland is a founding member of the Council of Europe and signed the ECHR. But the ECHR only became part of Irish law when the Oireachtas passed the European Convention on Human Rights Act 2003. This is because the ECHR does not have a direct effect in Irish law.

All of the ECHR rights are included in the Charter. The Charter however addresses some modern issues that are not included in the ECHR (for example, human cloning, data protection).

The box below outlines some of the similarities and differences between the Charter and the ECHR:

European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union
First proclaimed 1950 by the Council of Europe 2000 by the European Union
Came into effect in Ireland European Convention of Human Rights Act 2003. Before this, the ECHR and the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights were not binding in Ireland but were referred to by the courts. In December 2009 along with the Treaty of Lisbon. The Charter has the same legal status as an EU treaty and therefore has direct effect in certain areas.
When is it applied in Ireland? Irish law must be compatible with the ECHR. This applies when laws are being written or changed and when the courts are interpreting Irish laws.

Every government department, local authority and public institution must perform its duties in a way that satisfies Ireland’s obligations under the ECHR.

The Oireachtas must consider the Charter when transposing EU directives into Irish law, or passing legislation following an EU decision or regulation.

For citizens, the Charter only applies where the case involves EU law.

Court The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg The Court of Justice of the European Union in Luxembourg

Further information

Further information on the Charter is available on the European Commission's website.


Page edited: 31 January 2023