No, The Sun, the Human Rights Act is not the EU
10 February 2013
I was watching the England football team beat Ireland in the World Cup earlier when I was tweeted a cracking bit of legal gobbledegook from The Sun: Youngsters at risk after EU ruling. According to The Sun, Now the “EU could let fiends like him prey on your children“.
For the record, the Court of Appeal, which produced the judgment, is not an EU court. It is an English and Welsh court, based in the Royal Courts of Justice in London. And the EU had absolutely nothing to do with this judgment, which was about CRB checks and Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the right to family and private life); you can find our analysis here. I won’t address the detail if the judgment here; read our summary and see if you think The Sun is right.
I know this stuff isn’t easy. There are lots of European organisations and it it is perhaps to be expected that the The Sun in its stated hatred of the Human Rights Act gets a bit confused when raging about them. Council of Europe, European Union, the Euro… what really is the difference?
Let’s get things straight. The European Convention of Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, is administered by the Council of Europe (‘CoE’), an organisation set up in 1949 by the Treaty of London. The UK was one of the first ten states to sign up.
Our Winnie (for non Sun-readers, Winston Churchill) had called for a ‘Council of Europe’ six years earlier in 1943. Somewhat fascinatingly, his speech to the first session of the CoE’s Assembly can be read here. It begins “Prenez-garde ! Je vais parler en Francais” (‘Be warned! I am going to speak in French“).
The EU is an entirely different organisation from the CoE. It is an economic and political union of 27 states. Although of similar vintage, but its development was separate from the CoE. Signing up to the European Convention on Human Rights is now a condition of EU membership – but they really are distinct institutions.
The European Convention on Human Rights was produced by the CoE in 1950 and entered into force in 1953. It is an international treaty aimed at protecting human rights, and it was drafted in the most part by British lawyer and prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials, David Maxwell Fyfe based on many of the UK’s common law rights (see this wonderful post for more). 47 states are now party to the Convention, and have agreed to abide by rulings of the Strasbourg court as a result.
In 2000, the Human Rights Act brought much of the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law. The effect was that our local courts, from county and magistrate courts to (as it is now) the Supreme Court, including of course the Court of Appeal, could apply human rights law. This means that the vast majority of human rights judgments affecting UK law are produced by our local judges. In fact, only around ten a year come from Strasbourg.
Occasionally, the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg, which is the EU court, produces a judgment which is relevant to human rights law (see David Hart QC’s bluffer’s guide for more). But the vast majority of human rights judgments are from our domestic courts or Strasbourg.
This stuff may be complicated, but it also happens to be important. For example, when we have a referendum on whether to leave the EU or not, Sun readers may be disappointed to find out that they are not actually voting to get rid of the influence of human rights law on the UK. More simply, newspapers shouldn’t be printing confusing nonsense.
And did you notice my error at the beginning of the post? England beat Ireland in the Rugby Six Nations, not the football World Cup. Did it jar? Don’t be so pedantic. EU, European Convention, football, rugby – what really is the difference?
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