Saturday, April 21, 2012

The European Court of Human Rights versus the United Kingdom?

Occasionally, Ros gets e-mails that she reads and thinks, "Mark will find this interesting..." before forwarding them on. And one from the Equality and Human Rights Commission fell into that category.

On Thursday, it published a research report on the European Court of Human Rights and the UK to coincide with the meeting of the forty-seven member nations of the Council of Europe in Brighton to discuss the UK government proposals for reform of the court.
It seems that just a tiny minority of rulings by the Strasbourg Court are against the UK government.  In fact, of the nearly 12,000 applications brought against the UK between 1999 and 2010, the vast majority fell at the first hurdle. Only three per cent (390 applications) were declared admissible. An even smaller proportion of applications - 1.8 per cent (215) - eventually resulted in a judgement finding a violation. The latest figures for 2011 show a rate of defeat of just 0.5 per cent, or one in 200.
Even more interestingly, it is the case that, in a similar situation to the Human Rights Act where the UK parliament has sovereignty over its implementation, UK courts have the flexibility to interpret the European Convention on Human Rights in a manner different to that of the Strasbourg court. A 'margin of appreciation' recognises that national authorities are in the main best placed to decide how human rights should be applied.
While judgements against the UK have been relatively few in number, they have frequently been serious in nature, with a significant proportion involving basic civil liberties such as the right to a fair trial; around eight per cent of judgements related to the right to life and the prohibition of torture and inhuman degrading treatment.
Other important rulings have led to better protection against unnecessary intrusion into privacy through the use of secret surveillance; legislation outlawing forced labour and servitude; equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people and protecting the freedom of the UK media, including the protection of journalists' sources and the importance of investigative journalism, as in the exposure by the Sunday Times  of the thalidomide case.
The Commission, which is Britain's National Human Rights Institution (NHRI), welcomes the Declaration issued by government representatives gathered in Brighton. In particular, the Commission welcomes their acknowledgement of the Court's extraordinary contribution to the protection of human rights in Europe; the right of individuals to take their cases to the Court as the cornerstone of the system; the UK government's acknowledgement that it can prevent breaches of the Convention and reduce the workload of the Court by ensuring respect for human rights at home; and the reaffirmation of the important role of NHRI's like the Equality and Human Rights Commission in protecting human rights.
The Commission also welcomes the news that the backlog of cases which has built up will be dealt with over the next few years and that there will be moves to improve selection processes so that only the best individuals become judges.
You do begin to wonder if Conservatives are so knee-jerk on European issues these days that they automatically oppose anything with 'Europe' or 'European' in its name. Thank heavens that UEFA changed the European Cup to the Champions League! 

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