Like lots of things to do with the ECHR, the idea seems to have been British. As Simpson put it in his magnificent history of the Convention, Human Rights and the End of Empire (OUP, 2001), Our Man (Jebb), in early 1949, appears to have suggested the site of the Council of Europe should be Strasbourg
not for its architectural or gastronomic qualities, much less for its geese, but because of its symbolic significance for Franco-German reconciliation
Quite obvious, when you think about it. I was spurred into this by my winter festival reading, Neil MacGregor’s Germany.
Strasbourg commands a chapter, Floating City. Floating, because it swapped between Germany and France regularly, with increasing rapidity in the run up to the ECHR in 1950. Formerly known as Strassburg, it had been emphatically part of the Holy Roman Empire, an Imperial city, a bishopric and German-speaking, until Louis XIV nicked it in 1681 – in war. The French were wise enough to administer it with a light touch – German remaining the predominant language – so it remained nominally French until 1871. Indeed, Goethe (and Metternich) studied there, and Goethe lauded the Gothic mediaeval cathedral (see pics) as reflecting supremely German architecture (Von Deutscher Baukunst) – which of course it wasn’t, given that Gothic architecture derives from France. Continue reading
Oao Neftyanay Kopaniya Yukos v Russia 31 July 2014 read this damages judgment and read violation judgment
A good week, to say the least, for Mikhail Kordokovsky, recently released from a Russian jail. A complex story of punitive tax assessments on his former company, Yukos, has led to a judgement of €1.866 bn in Strasbourg against Russia.
I shall concentrate on the Strasbourg case, although for sheer numbers the story is perhaps elsewhere; on 28 July 2014 shareholders had obtained awards from the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ordering Russia to pay $51.57 bn to shareholders in Yukos Oil, saying officials had manipulated the legal system to bankrupt the company.
Two fascinating speeches to recommend.
Lord Phillips, former Supreme Court President, gave a thoughtful speech at Kings College on whether human rights are a “force for good or a threat to democracy”. He expressed quite significant concerns over some recent Strasbourg decisions on jurisdiction, prisoner votes etc. (you know the drill – see Rosalind’s post on the other senior judges/former judges speaking their minds).
The conclusion he reaches, on balance but also with “no hesitation” is that “Europe needs the Convention and Europe needs the Court. … Strasbourg is a powerful force for good.”
I really must do a chart of the senior judiciary and ex-judiciary’s positions on Strasbourg. They are falling over themselves to express a view.
Meanwhile, over at the Law Society of Ireland, Lady Hale gave a speech on Freedom of Religion and Belief, which readers will know is one of this blog’s pet topics (see our other posts on religion).
Rhubarb, rhubarb. Another defeat for the United Kingdom in Strasbourg yesterday. In James, Wells and Lee v. the United Kingdom, a chamber of the Court’s Fourth Section held that indeterminate sentences of imprisonment for public protection infringed Article 5 of the Convention. At his first Justice Questions in the House of Commons yesterday, our fresh-minted Conservative Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, advised MPs that:
“I’m very disappointed with the ECHR decision this morning. I have to say, it is not an area where I welcome the Court, seeking to make rulings. It is something we intend to appeal.”
One wonders which areas Mr Grayling would welcome the Court’s jurisdiction, but all in all, a somewhat tepid response from a man whose appointment was greeted by the Daily Mail with the enthusiastic suggestion that Grayling…
“… unlike his predecessor Ken Clarke, will have no truck with the cardboard judges at the European Court of Human Rights.”
Marie-Bénédicte Dembour calls them ‘forgotten cases’. As Adam Wagner demonstrated in a blog post of last week, Eurosceptic newspapers have a particular interest in overlooking the European Court of Human Right’s decisions of inadmissibility, seeking to buttress claims that the Court is wildly interventionist, imposing alien “European” logics on Britain with gleeful abandon.
Both the Telegraph and Daily Mail covered the findings of a report commissioned by backbench Tory MPs critical of the Court’s jurisdiction, both simply replicating its astonishingly misleading content. The papers contended that the UK was defeated in three in four cases brought against it, with violations of the Convention being found in 75% of human right petitions to Strasbourg.
At last week’s Inner Temple hall event, ‘Strasbourg and the UK: Dialogue or Conflict’, Lord Justice Laws asked some provocative questions:
why should judges decide matters of social policy [thrown up by human rights cases] at all? The political rights, Article 8 – 12, with the right set out in the first part and the derogation in the second, create a structure which means that a very large number of legal debates is about how the balance between private right and public interest should be struck. But what authority, expertise, do lawyers have to strike that balance, that is special to them? Why are lawyers any better qualified to assess family ties in foreign criminal questions?
When the floor was opened to questions I suggested that these comments could be extended out more broadly: what was the proper role and function of the Strasbourg Court? This question, I suggest, lies at the heart of much of the recent controversy surrounding the influence of the European Court of Human Rights, especially in the context of the disagreement over whether prisoners should be able to vote.