Is the UK listening to the European Court of Human Rights?
12 September 2012
The Ministry of Justice has published its annual report to the Joint Committee on Human Rights on the Government response to human rights judgments 2011–12. By signing up to the European Convention on Human Rights, the UK has committed to “abide by” judgments of the court. This commitment is monitored by the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers.
The report presents a snapshot of the current state of play in relation to the European Court of Human Rights, makes for very interesting reading (trust me!). Here are some tidbits:
- There were 28 judgments involving the UK from 1 August 2011 to 31 July 2012, nine of which the UK lost (UK loses 3 out of 4 cases, anyone?). See the handy table at pages 12-13.
- The UK currently has 24 cases before the Committee of Ministers, which means that they have not been implemented.
- The UK paid out €454,457 [this originally and wrongly said £] in damages for human rights violations (known as ‘just satisfaction’) in 2011, compared to €371,160 in 2010 (p.58). Fear of this figure ending up in the Daily Mail may be the reason that it is on the last page.
- On implementation of those tricky prisoner voting rulings, the UK Government has until 22 November 2012 to bring forward legislative proposals to end the current blanket ban. With just over two months to go, the MoJ is keeping tight-lipped: “The Government is considering its response to these judgments. “
- On Abu Qatada, as we already know, the Home Secretary has in her statement to Parliament of 17 April 2012 “referred to diplomatic assurances received from the Jordanian authorities that the applicant would receive a fair trial“, and that the Government would “undertake his deportation in full compliance with the law and with the ruling of the European Court.” We shall see if the deportation attempt succeeds, or whether it will end up back in front of the court.
- On the retention of DNA and other biometric evidence (S & Marper v UK): “once the Protection of Freedoms Act had come into force in England and Wales, the police would begin removing the profiles of un-convicted people from the National DNA Database. It is anticipated that the same approach would be adopted in Northern Ireland following the necessary legislative changes.”
- As to Al Jedda v UK (jurisdiction of the Human Rights Act extended to Iraq), see p.27. There a large group of damages claims relating to the Iraq war which are currently being settled, it would seem. And here is a mildly interesting statement which we may hear more of in the future: “[the judgment] has no implications for its current operations elsewhere including detention operations in Afghanistan where the legal basis for UK operations is materially different from that which pertained in Iraq” (this statement is repeated in relation to Al-Skeini)
- And regarding Al-Skeini v UK, another case about the territorial jurisdiction of the Human Rights Act, those interested in the current state of play at the Iraq Historic Allegations Team, which was set up to investigate historic allegations against British Forces in Iraq in 2003-2009, will want to read p.29. In short, IHA as of March this year is also investigating Article 2 ECHR breaches (i.e. deaths) in addition to Article 3 (torture/inhuman & degrading treatment) which was the original remit. And, following this Court of Appeal judgment, the investigations team has been reconstituted to involve the Royal Navy Police as opposed to the Royal Military Police, the latter having been criticised by the Court of Appeal as potentially not independent enough.
- The report points out (seemingly just because it is procedurally interesting and may diminish the court’s groaning case load more quickly) that in July 2012 the Court for the first time in a UK case applied its new “no significant disadvantage” criterion in declaring Heather Moor & Edgecomb Ltd v the United Kingdom inadmissible. The ruling is here – for future pub quizzes, the Romanians beat us by over two years to the first ever use of the criterion.
- There were no declarations of incompatibility made by UK courts between August 2011 to July 2012 (27 have been made since October 200 when the Human Rights Act came into force – they are handily listed from page 41). Judicial deference [probably not – see the comments below]?
On the final analysis, as the report points out the UK is a comparatively good (perhaps even very good) citizen when it comes to implementation of judgments. Contrary to the rhetoric, the UK does tend to do as it is told by the court, as it has promised to by signing up to the ECHR in the first place.
Of course, the prisoner votes case threatens to derail this status if the Government continues its current path of non-imlementation beyond the 22 November 2012 deadline. My suspicion is that despite the Prime Minister’s strong words some kind of compromise will be reached. We shall see. The report contains a lot more detail on the cases mentioned above and many others. Your friendly neighbourhood human rights blog will continue to keep you posted.
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