Last Friday, 5 April, saw a break-through in negotiations as to how the EU is to accede to the ECHR – see the Draft Agreement on Accession of the European Union to the European Convention on Human Rights. There has been a lot of speculation (e.g. my post of June 2012) about how the roles of the EU Court (the CJEU) and the Strasbourg Court might be fitted together. Now at least we have some of the proposed answers, though there are a number of formal steps to be undergone before it comes into law.
The move is a culmination of a process trailed as long ago as the 1970s, though kick-started more recently by Article 6 of the Lisbon Treaty of European Union. This entered into force in 2009, and says that the EU “shall” accede to the ECHR. Negotiations started in earnest in 2009/10, initially with negotiators from 14 Convention countries (7 in the EU, 7 ECHR but non-EU members) who met with members of the European Commission, and latterly involving all 47 Council of Europe countries. Those negotiators have now reached agreement.
Chagos Islanders v. United Kingdom, ECtHR 4th Section, 11 December 2012 read admissibility decision
The set of injustices which led to these claims is well known – and see my posts here and here. For the uninitiated, in the 1960s, the US wanted Diego Garcia (one of the Chagos Islands) as a major air base. It spoke nicely to the UK, its owners, who consequently evicted and banned all the inhabitants from it and the neighbouring islands. The constitutional arrangements were apparently decorous. A new UK colony was established (the British Indian Ocean Territory or BIOT) with a Commissioner to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the Territory.
The UN was told that the population consisted of migrant workers, their position had been fully protected, and they had been consulted in the process – none of this in fact happened. Those evicted mainly went to Mauritius and the Seychelles. So the peace, order and good government in fact forthcoming from the UK amounted to total depopulation for military objectives.
Smith & Ors v The Ministry of Defence  EWCA Civ 1365 – Read judgment
Updated – the first two paragraphs of this post have been amended as they were factually inaccurate. Many apologies for this.
Last month, the Court of Appeal decided that the negligence claims of the families of five British soldiers killed or injured on duty in Iraq could go ahead. It would be for the High Court to decide on the facts whether decisions made about troops’ equipment and training fell within the long-standing doctrine of ‘combat immunity’. The appellants were however unsuccessful in arguing that the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA) applied.
The case concerned claims brought by the families of five men killed or injured in south-east Iraq. Corporal Allbutt was killed and Troopers Twiddy and Julien injured in Challenger II tanks in fratricide, or ‘friendly fire’, incidents on 25 March 2003. Privates Hewett and Ellis and Lance Corporal Redpath were killed in their Snatch Land Rovers by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) on 16 July 2005, 28 February 2006 and 9 August 2007 respectively (the ‘Snatch Landrover claims’).
In my post of today about checks on EU legality, I made the point that no institution formally monitors the EU apart from EU institutions. Moves are afoot to change that, though not in a form that diehard Eurosceptics are likely to relish. Article 6 of the Lisbon Treaty of European Union says that the EU shall accede to the ECHR. As and when that occurs, the European Court of Human Rights will assume a formal role in adjudicating upon the legality of EU measures. The details of accession could not be settled by the purely EU Treaty of Lisbon, hence the ongoing negotiations.
However, things have been happening very recently. Yesterday, 19 June, a joint informal body of members of the European Parliament and Council of Europe parliamentarians welcomed the prospect of talks resuming on EU accession to the European Convention on Human Rights, and, last week, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe decided to pursue negotiations with the European Union with a view to finalising the legal instruments setting out the way in which the EU would accede to the ECHR.
Kolyadenko v. Russia
EHCtR, 28 February 2012
This was the scene in the riverbed lying below a large reservoir near Vladivostok. There had been very heavy rain, causing the managers of the reservoir to let water through into that riverbed for fear that the reservoir might collapse. But the channel beneath was not exactly clear of obstructions, as the image shows. 6 flooded applicants obtained no redress in the Russian Courts, and had to go to Strasbourg to get damages – nearly 11 years after the flood in August 2001.
It might be thought that similar claimants here would not go uncompensated. But that is far from clear, as English law on flooding liabilities is by no means straightforward. Hence, the interest of the case, in which claims under Articles 2 (right to life), 8 (right to private and home life) and Article 1 Protocol 1 (right to possessions) were successful.
Behind the Times paywall Anthony Lester today declares that “Sniping at Strasbourg will only hinder reform”. In his guest column, he says that Court is suffering unfair criticism from “sections of the British media” and “politicians who accuse it of over-reaching its power”. That may well be the case, but the most searing and authoritative criticism comes not from politicians or the press but from Lord Lester’s own profession – see Jonathan Sumption QC’s recent broadside (and our post) and Lord Hoffmann’s much-discussed analysis (posted here).
If the Court is indeed hobbled by unfair squibs and arrows from a resentful sector of the British populace, as Lord Lester suggests, why is the prisoner votes example the only one he can come up with? That is an important fight, at least from a constitutional angle, but not the only flashpoint; the Court’s tendency to act as fourth instance appeal tribunal particularly on deportation and terrorism cases is arguably far more “dangerous” and certainly of concern to more people than votes for prisoners. Continue reading
The recent European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) judgment in Al-Skeini will certainly enter the Court’s hall of fame as a landmark judgment for pushing the boundaries of the European Convention on Human Rights’s jurisdiction. While it may take us some time to appreciate the full implications of this judgment, one of its possible consequences is the potential opening of the Court’s doors to claims arising from international armed conflicts.
In Al-Skeini, the ECtHR determined that there may be instances when the European Convention on Human Rights may apply outside the ‘espace juridique’, that is the Convention’s ‘legal space’, or within the territories of the Convention’s member states (see Alasdair Henderson’s post on the ruling, which concerned Article 1 of the Convention). This may occur when agents of a member state are exercising authority and control over individuals (personal rather than strictly territorial control) within a given territory upon which that same member state is exercising some public powers. Accordingly, in the case of Al-Skeini, the Convention was found to be applicable to actions taken by British troops in Basra (Iraq), where the UK assumed the exercise of some of the public powers normally exercised by a sovereign government (see paras. 149-150 of the judgment).
The decisions by the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights in Al-Skeini and Al-Jedda, handed down last Thursday, have generally been hailed as leap forward for human rights protection. We have already provided a summary of the decisions and pointed to some of the commentary here.
However, it is worth considering the core parts of these rulings a little more carefully. Without wishing to put too much of a dampener on the initial excitement from human rights campaigners about the outcome, the Court’s reasoning is perhaps not quite the radical breakthrough it first appeared to be. In fact, as Judge Bonello pointed out in his concurring opinion (which has drawn a lot of attention for his comments about ‘human rights imperialism’), the principles governing jurisdiction under Article 1 of the ECHR are not that much clearer following these decisions.
Updated | The legal blogs have been busy reporting on this morning’s important decisions of the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights in Al-Skeini and Al-Jedda – see my post.
There has been coverage already from PHD Studies in Human Rights, the Human Rights in Ireland Blog (update - see also EJIL: Talk: “Let me put this as strongly as I can: this is as close as we’ve ever come to the European Court overruling Bankovic. And good riddance – except, as we will see, the Court’s disavowal of Bankovic is only half-hearted at best.”). The Guardian has also published an article on the case in which Phil Shiner of Public Interest Lawyers claims that the decisions will reopen the case for a wider public inquiry into alleged detainee mistreatment in Iraq; the firm recently failed in a judicial review of a decision not to hold a public inquiry on behalf of 127 Iraqis.
Many thanks to Antoine Buyse of the ECHR Blog for highlighting the lyrical and eminently quotable concurring opinion of Maltese Judge Giovanni Bonello, who since writing the judgment has retired from the court. Bonello said that he would have applied a slightly different “functional jurisdiction” test to decide whether the applicants fell within the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom.
Al-Skeini v. United Kingdom, European Court of Human Rights Grand Chamber (Application no. 55721/07) - Read judgment / press release
Al-Jedda v. the UK (Application No. 27021/08)- Read judgment / press release
The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that from 1 May 2003 to 28 June 2004 the UK had jurisdiction under Article 1 (obligation to respect human rights) of the European Convention on Human Rights in respect of civilians killed during security operations carried out by UK soldiers in Basrah.
The court went on to find in Al-Skeini that there had been a failure to conduct an independent and effective investigation into the deaths of the relatives of five of the six applicants, in violation of Article 2 (right to life) of the Convention. The court awarded 17,000 euros to five of the six applicants, in addition to 50,000 euros in costs jointly.
In Al-Jedda, the court found a violation of Article 5 (1) (right to liberty and security) of the European Convention in relation to the internment of an Iraqi for more than three years (2004- 2007) in a detention centre in Basrah.
Smith & Ors v Ministry of Defence  EWHC 1676 (QB) – Read judgment
The Human Rights Act applies in the UK. That much is clear. Whether it applies outside of UK territory is a whole other question, and one for which we may have a new answer when the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights gives judgment in the case of Al-Skeini and others v. the United Kingdom & Al-Jedda v. the United Kingdom next week.
The court is to give its long-awaited ruling at 10am (Strasbourg time) on Thursday 7 July. In short, the 7 applicants in the case were killed, allegedly killed or detained (Al-Jedda) by British forces in Iraq between 2003 and 2007. Both of the claims reached the House of Lords in the UK (now the Supreme Court), and in all but one case, which involved a death in a military detention centre, the court found that the Human Rights Act did not apply in Basra at the time, and therefore the UK military had no obligation to observe the requirements under the European Convention on Human Rights, and in particular article 2 (the right to life) and article 5 (right to liberty).