Businesses, governments and civil society descended on Geneva last week for the 2014 UN Forum on Business and Human Rights, the largest global gathering in the business and human rights field. There were lofty statements of high ambition but the pervasive tone and success of the Forum was more prosaic: nitty-gritty implementation.
It was a conference dedicated to developing and sharing the best practices capable of shifting businesses from showcase philanthropy to real accountability, from vague aspirations to measurable impacts, and from a race to the bottom to a competition to be recognised as world leading. It was a call for real action; as one panel moderator told his coffee-clutching audience early on Day 3: “I want to see dust on everybody’s shoes”.
Implementation of what? Continue reading
Dominic Grieve QC was appointed as the Coalition Government’s Attorney General in May 2010. He remained in post until July 2014 when he was sacked. He said he would “happily” have stayed on, but the reality was that he could not support the Conservative Party’s radical plans to reform UK human rights law.
Since then he has become a fierce and impassioned critic of the Tory plans, somewhat surprisingly given his public persona which is otherwise calm and lawyerly. He has produced two detailed, and devastating, critiques: the first in Prospect Magazine and then last night in a lecture at University College London. Both are highly recommended as measured and unarguably correct analyses of the Tory plan.
To my mind, Dominic Grieve QC is a bit of a hero. He has stood up for principle at the expense of his political career. He did not just resign in disgust, he then made it his business to explain to people – and particularly those on the Right – why the Tory plans would be “devastating both for ourselves domestically as it will be for the future of the Convention” (p.24).
This post is adapted from a speech given by Judge Robert Spano of the European Court of Human Rights at Chatham House on 13 October 2014. It is reproduced here with permission and thanks.
There is currently a vigorous debate in the UK on the status and future of the European Convention on Human Rights in national law and also on the relationship between my Court, the Strasbourg Court (ECtHR), the UK Parliament and the domestic judiciary.
In principle, democratic debates on such fundamental issues should always be welcome. Indeed, discussions on the role and functions of institutions of public power lie at the core of the democratic concept. It is therefore essential for the Court and its judges to engage in reasoned and informed debate about their work and its wider European implications.
How Does the ECtHR Discharge Its Mandate?
I have been asked to discuss the question of how the Strasbourg Court discharges its mandate. To give an answer, one must first respond to the fundamental question: What is the Court‘s mandate?
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