The parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights this week published a report of its inquiry into whether the UK should ratify Protocol 15 of the European Convention on Human Rights. As the report states, Protocol 15 is the culmination of the UK Government’s contribution to the process of reform of the European Court of Human Rights, which was the UK’s top priority during its Chairmanship of the inter-governmental arm of the Council of Europe, the Committee of Ministers, in the first half of 2012.
The JCHR identifies as the most significant aspect of Protocol 15 the addition to the Preamble of the Convention of an express reference to the principle of ‘subsidiarity’ and the doctrine of ‘the margin of appreciation’. The Committee welcomes this amendment and recommends that the UK should ratify the Protocol – but only after it has been debated in both Houses as a means of raising members’ awareness of its significance.
This post focuses on the implications of Protocol 15 for the UK’s increasingly turbulent relationship with the Convention system, and for the wider debate about the purported ‘democratic deficit’ created by supranational judicial supervision of domestic democratically-accountable authority.
Gough v UK (Application no. 49327/11), 28 October 2014 – Read judgment
The applicant in this case has been repeatedly arrested, convicted and imprisoned for breaching the peace by walking around naked in public. In a judgment handed down recently, the European Court of Human Rights found the UK authorities’ restriction of his rights under Articles 10 and 8 of the Convention, proportionate to the legitimate aim of preventing disorder and crime.
Stephen Gough has a strong conviction that there is nothing inherently offensive about the human body, and that he harms no-one by walking around naked. A really, really strong conviction. Since he set off on a naked walk from Land’s End to John O’Groats in 2003, he has been nicknamed the ‘naked rambler’ and has spent most of the last eight years in prison, and most of that time solitary confinement.
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?
Bank Mellat v HM Treasury  EWHC 3631 (Admin), Collins J, 5 November 2014 – read judgment UPDATED POST
Fireworks here from Collins J in making sure that Bank Mellat got some disclosure of information in its fight to discharge a financial restriction order against it.
Bank Mellat is an Iranian bank, initially singled out by an 2009 order which prohibited anybody from dealing with it. The order was part of sanctions against Iran in respect of its nuclear and ballistic missiles programme. However, it bit the dust, thanks to the Supreme Court: see judgment. I did a post on that decision, and followed it up with one (here) on the (dis)proportionality arguments which led to the order’s downfall.
However the Bank was subject to two further orders, made in 2011 and 2012. They led to the freezing of €183m held by it in London. The 2012 order has since been revoked, but the 2011 one remains. This is the subject of the Bank’s application to set it aside. On any view, as Collins J recognised, it had caused very serious damage to the Bank’s business.
Lords Pannick and Faulks
Last night saw the important Report Stage consideration of Part 4 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill in the House of Lords. Angela Patrick, Director of Human Rights Policy at JUSTICE provides a summary.
Widely – and quickly – reported as a “crushing” or an “emphatic” defeat – in a rare turn – the Government was last night defeated in three consecutive votes on its proposals to restrict access to judicial review. With a ‘hat-trick’ of blows, on three crucial issues, votes on amendments tabled by Lords Pannick, Woolf, Carlile and Beecham were decisive. On the proposal to amend the materiality test – the Government lost by 66. On the compulsory disclosure of financial information for all judicial review applicants, and again on the costs rules applicable to interveners, the Government lost by margins on both counts by 33. A fourth amendment to the Government proposals on Protective Costs Orders – which would maintain the ability of the Court to make costs capping orders before permission is granted – was called after the dinner break, and lost.
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.
Updated | It emerged on Tuesday the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn has refused to host the UK Jewish Film Festival (UKJFF) for the first time in eight years. The theatre told UKJFF that they must reject longstanding funding from the Israeli Embassy if they wanted to use the venue. UKJFF refused and the relationship ended.
There has already been some excellent writing: see Nick Cohen, Archie Bland and Dorian Lynskey. Cohen makes a powerful case for the decision being anti-Semitic. I’m not going to go there, although as I have been saying on Twitter, in my view this is a bad move by the Tricycle. I thought it would be interesting, however, to investigate whether the Tricycle may have broken any laws.