Photo credit: Guardian.co.uk
It is easy to forget that our domestic debate over the European Convention on Human Rights might be having an international impact. But the UK is only one of 47 states which is party to the Convention, and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg protects over 800 million people.
This morning, we brought you exclusive interviews with survivors of the Beslan massacre who are rightly worried that if the UK leaves the Convention, or even threatens to leave as the Conservatives did recently, that will affect their fight for justice. In short, Vladimir Putin would have a ready excuse for ignoring any conclusions reached by the Court.
Well, here is another example of the effect which political trash-talking about the ECHR can have. Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta is facing war crimes charges in the Hague relating to ethnic violence which erupted after the 2007 elections leaving 1,200 dead and 600,000 displaced.
He has recently stepped down in order to face the charges. He made a speech to the Kenyan Parliament (PDF) on 6 October strongly asserting Kenya’s “sovereignty”, and in doing so he said this: Continue reading
Photo credit: Guardian.co.uk
The Conservative Party’s proposals to introduce a British Bill of Rights and Responsibilities that would weaken the UK’s obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) – and the legal chaos that would ensue if it was ever enacted – have been hotly debated. The proposal makes clear that if the Council of Europe was to reject the UK’s unilateral move, as it would be bound to, the UK ‘would be left with no alternative but to withdraw’ from the Convention.
The policy is highly isolationist. The brief section on the ‘international implications’ of the plan does not pause to consider the impact of withdrawal on the other 46 states on the Council of Europe or the Convention system as a whole. Nor does it address the implications for the UK’s ability to promote human rights and the rule of law in countries with significantly worse human rights records.
This is despite the evident risk of contagion to newer Council of Europe states. The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muižnieks, has argued that if the UK persists in its disrespect for the Strasbourg Court, exemplified by its protracted non-compliance with the judgment on prisoners’ voting rights, this would
… send a strong signal to other member states, some of which would probably follow the UK’s lead and also claim that compliance with certain judgments is not possible, necessary or expedient. That would probably be the beginning of the end of the ECHR system.
Hansen v. Norway, ECtHR, 2 October, read judgment
In any system of appeals, there is always a tension between giving everyone a fair hearing and concentrating on the appeals which do stand a reasonable prospect of success. The UK, like many countries, has introduced some filters on civil appeals in relatively recent times, enabling unmeritorious appeals to be dismissed at the threshold. In doing so, it gives short (sometimes very short) reasons for refusing permission.
You might have thought that this was a classic area where Strasbourg would be wary about intervening in domestic practice and striking the balance between speed and fairness. Yet the Court was persuaded that the Norwegians got the balance wrong, and found a breach of Article 6(1). We therefore need to read it carefully to see whether the same could be said about our system.
In his speech at yesterday’s Conservative Party conference, the Prime Minister confirmed that the party’s 2015 election manifesto will include a commitment to repeal the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA) and replace it with a “British Bill of Rights”. Last night, however, The Scotsman newspaper quoted a Scotland Office spokesman as saying that the change would not apply in Scotland. According to the article, the spokesman “confirmed that human rights legislation is devolved to the Scottish Parliament because it was ‘built into the 1998 Scotland Act [and] cannot by removed [by Westminster].’” As reported, this statement is seriously misleading. However, it does highlight genuine difficulties that devolution creates for the implementation of plans to reform human rights law. Continue reading
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.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, The Sun has got it badly wrong on human rights. Again. On 24 August 2014 Craig Woodhouse reported that “Euro judges go against UK in 3 out of 5 cases” (£). This is false and seriously misleading.
I explored this issue in detail back in 2012 when the Daily Mail as well as others claimed that the UK loses 3 out of 4 cases. Since that debacle, the European Court of Human Rights has produced some very clear documents on the statistics page of its website.
According to page 8 of this document, there have been 22,065 applications against UK 1959-2013. That means that 22,065 people or so have brought cases against the UK. Of those cases, there have been 297 resulting in a violation.
I am no statistician but 297 as a percentage of 22,065 is not “3 out of 5″. It is in fact 1.35%. Less than 2 in 100.
With the May 2015 General Election looming, the battle for the future of human rights in the UK is hotting up. The Prime Minister has just sacked his long-standing Attorney General apparently because he disagreed with a mooted Tory manifesto policy which would, he rightly suggested, breach the UK’s international law obligations.
Meanwhile, over on what used to be Fleet Street,we can expect plenty of human rights misinformation and misrepresentation, as per usual. The Sun, a longterm offender, has been at it again with two recent articles. I thought it would be useful to respond in a bit of detail as they contain a number of common misrepresentations. And because they are behind a paywall, the usual army of Twitter fact checkers are left somewhat powerless.