The Human Rights Act 1998, which incorporates the European Convention on Human Rights into English law finally came into effect this week.

The act is primarily concerned with the enforcement of human rights standards against public authorities, but it is also likely to be applied to relationships between individuals and between individuals and private bodies. The new law will save appellants the five-year haul through the European courts.

Among the rights established by the act is the right to a fair trial, and rights relating to freedom of speech and respect for a person's private life.

In Scotland where the act was incorporated in limited form two years ago, the government said 98% of cases brought under the act had failed.