Happy 60th birthday, European Convention on Human Rights

Today marks the 60th anniversary of the signing of the European Convention on Human Rights on 4 November 1950. This comes hot on the heels of the tenth birthday of the Human Rights Act, which we celebrated on October 2nd.

The European Convention on Human Rights, which came into force on 3 September 1953, guarantees a range of political rights and freedoms of the individual against interference by the State. Before the incorporation of the Convention, individuals in the United Kingdom could only complain of unlawful interference with their Convention rights by lodging a petition with the European Commission of Human Rights in Strasbourg. That all changed on 2 October 2000 when the Human Rights Act 1998 came into force, allowing UK citizens to sue public bodies for breaches of their Convention rights in domestic courts.

The European Court of Human Rights has set up a commemorative website which includes:

If you want to celebrate in person rather than online, the Human Rights Lawyers Association, together with the Slynn Foundation, are holding a commemorative dinner on Friday 19th November 2010 at Gray’s Inn, London. The Minister for Human Rights, Lord McNally, and President of the Supreme Court, Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, are Guests of Honour. Further information – including ticket details – can be found here.

If you wish to contemplate the anniversary in quiet solitude, this week the Guardian has been asking whether human rights exist. This has been answered in two essays so far, by Steve Crawshaw, international advocacy director at Amnesty International, who argues they do exist and are in fact growing, and Andrew Brown, editor of Comment is Free belief section, who argues that there is no evidence of their existence and that it is dangerous to teach them to children instead of religion.

On that note, if you are interested in this question from a practical perspective, Samuel Moyn, a professor at Columbia University, has written a fascinating new book: The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History. I have referred to this in a previous post reviewing the introduction of the book, published as an essay in The Nation magazine.

As lawyers, we at the UK Human Rights Blog (gratefully) aim to steer clear of abstract philosophising on rights. Human rights clearly exist in the UK and are argued about in courts every day, thanks in no small part to the 60-year evolution of the European Convention from an idealistic post-war statement of principle to a practical and well honed legal instrument. Happy birthday!

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