The remarkable shrinking backlog at the European Court of Human Rights – Alice Donald

dutch-boyIn recent years, a constant feature of debate about the future of the European Court of Human Rights has been the backlog of applications that threatens to engulf it. At its height, in September 2011, this backlog reached the dizzying figure of more than 160,000.

The accumulation of applications has been the basis of the argument both by politicians (such as David Cameron) and figures formerly associated with the Court (such as Luzius Wildhaber) that the Strasbourg system should be fundamentally reformed so that it would deliver far fewer judgments relating only to large-scale violations, structural problems, or important questions of the interpretation and application of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Such reform would mean drastically curtailing the right of individual petition, which for decades has been the cornerstone of the Convention system (and of other regional human rights mechanisms that have emulated the ECHR model).  Yet if the backlog was to be significantly reduced – or eliminated – the foundation of the argument that the Court requires root-and-ranch reform to avoid collapse would, by the same token, disappear. Figures presented last week by the Registrar of the Court, Erik Fribergh, suggest that this scenario is now not only possible, but likely.

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When does a righteous campaign shade into harassment?

Chessington_World_of_Adventures_Kobra2Merlin Entertainments LPC,  Chessington World of Adventures Operations and others v Peter Cave [2014] EWHC 3036 (QB)  25 September 2014 – read judgment 

This case explores the extent to which a campaign of criticism, conducted by internet and email, can merit restraint by the civil courts. As the judge says, whatever the aims of the campaign in question, its supporters may, in the course of their activities, annoy, irritate, and upset companies and individuals.  But should the courts interfere, before the question whether the campaign is justified has been decided?  And to what extent is such a campaign a criminal offence?

This particular dispute concerned a series of communications by the defendant to the general public about the inadequacy of safety measures and other shortcomings of the claimants’ amusement parks. The claimants contended that Dr Cave’s communications with the public and with their employees were defamatory, and in breach of confidence, and that they were thereby entitled to stop him, before any trial, by relying on the statutory tort of harassment. They therefore applied for an interim injunction restraining the defendant from setting up websites and sending mass emails regarding the issue of safety in theme parks. The question before the judge was whether they should wait until they had established defamation and/or breach of confidence, before the court granted a remedy. Continue reading

Legal Aid Challenge Success, Assisted Suicide and the Future of UK Human Rights – the Human Rights Roundup

Grayling HRRWelcome back to the UK Human Rights Roundup, your regular party gathering of human rights news and views. The full list of links can be found here. You can find previous roundups here. Links compiled by Adam Wagner, post by Celia Rooney.

This week, the Conservative Party will unveil its plans for human rights reform in the UK. In other news, Chris Grayling’s decision to drastically reduce the number of legal aid contacts granted is successfully challenged, while a prosecution for assisted suicide keeps the assisted dying debate alive.

Tories Unveil Plans for Human Rights Reform Continue reading

The rule of law needs reaffirmation – Julinda Beqira and Lawrence Mcnamara

PAjusticeOver the next year the United Nations will discuss and adopt an agenda for global development for 2015 – 2030. It will set out the aims countries should strive to achieve in order to secure economic, social and environmental development.

One of the most contentious points of debate – and one of the most important – will be what role the rule of law will occupy in the post-2015 development agenda. Its significance cannot be overstated as it reaches into the very heart of how our future will be shaped.

This year’s General Assembly meetings commence on 24 September and run until 1 October. They will be crucial in shaping the post-2015 agenda. Of the paths the GA may take, there are two main options:

  • in one path, the rule of law will be stated as a goal that States should strive to achieve.
  • in the other, it will not be.

What path should the UN take? And what path will it take? Continue reading

The Monstering of Human Rights

On Friday 19 September I spoke at a very interesting conference at the University of Liverpool on Human Rights in the UK Media: Representation and Reality. My talk was entitled The Monstering of Human Rights. You can download it by clicking here (PDF). It is also embedded below.

As always, comments are welcome. There is quite a lot in there tying together some of the themes I have been writing about over the past few years. As a number of people pointed out in Liverpool, it is too easy to point to errors in human rights reporting as proof that all criticisms of the human rights system are bogus, which is clearly wrong. But nonetheless, misinformation and exaggeration is an important feature of the public debate on human rights and it is interesting to consider why that might be the case, and – a question which has troubled me over the past few years – how to stop it happening.

I expect the issue of human rights reform will arise again now that the Scottish referendum process has concluded and the political parties are setting out their agendas for 2015. It seems pretty clear that the Conservative Party will promise to repeal the Human Rights Act but what they will do in relation to the European Convention on Human Rights is still very much an unknown. My expectation is that they will not promise to withdraw from the ECHR. Not yet, anyway. Labour and the Liberal Democrats are likely to retain the existing system, with a few tweaks. But whoever wins the election, there is a huge amount of work to be done to repair the reputation of human rights laws in the UK and convince the public that they are, on balance, a good thing.

PS. if any kind soul would like to turn the PDF version into a HTML linked blog-ready post, I would be eternally grateful! Email me if you would be interested, you would of course get full credit in the ensuing post/s.

The Sun’s aggressive, then submissive, response to my complaint on its human rights reporting

BxuWgJ_IYAAawwN.jpg-largeThe Sun have printed another correction today in relation to its misleading human rights reporting. The correction, on page 2, can be read online or to the right of this post.

The correction was the outcome of a complaint I made about this article – I posted on it here. The main part of the correction relates to the entirely false claim that “The European Court stopped a British judge imposing a whole-life tariff on Ian McLoughlin”. The reality is that although judges were unsure whether they could impose the orders following Vinter v UK in the European Court of Human Rights, the Court of Appeal clarified in February 2014 that they definitely could. The Sun have now admitted that was the case.

I am happy that the correction has been made although as I have said before, the damage has to a large extent been done as – let’s be honest – how many people read the clarifications and corrections box (which is located immediately adjacent to the eye-catching Page 3…).

But what I found most interesting about the process, which was started by the Press Complaints Commission and concluded by its post-Leveson successor, the Indepenndent Press Standards Orgaisation (IPSO), was the initial response to my complaint (PDF here) by The Sun’s Ombudsman, Philippa Kennedy OBE, which I thought was needlessly aggressive and demonstrates a worrying approach to this issue. I will select a few choice quotes:

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Law of armed conflict means that anti-detention provision in ECHR may be disapplied re Iraqi detainee

camp-bucca1Hassan v. the United Kingdom (application no. 29750/09) ECHR 936 (16 September 2014) – read judgment

This case concerned the capture of an Iraqi national, Tarek Hassan, by the British armed forces and his detention at Camp Bucca in southeastern Iraq during the hostilities in 2003. The complaint was brought by his brother, who claimed that Tarek had been under the control of British forces, and that his dead body was subsequently found bearing marks of torture and execution.  In essence, the case raised issues concerning the acts of British armed forces in Iraq, extra-territorial jurisdiction and the application of the European Convention of Human Rights in the context of an international armed conflict. This was the first case in which a contracting State had requested the Court to disapply its obligations under Article 5 or in some other way to interpret them in the light of powers of detention available to it under international humanitarian law, which allows the internment of prisoners of war at times of international conflict.

The Grand Chamber held that although Tarek Hassan had been within the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom between the time of his arrest by British troops until the moment of his release; there had been no violation of Article 5(1), (2), (3) or (4) (right to liberty and security) of the European Convention on Human Rights as concerned his actual capture and detention. The European Convention had to be interpreted in parallel with international instruments which applied in time of war. Four out of the seventeen judges dissented on this point. Continue reading