No, The Sun, the Human Rights Act is not the EU

10 February 2013 by

BCv-H7PCMAA_LNq.jpg-large 2I 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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10 comments


  1. rogerivanhart says:

    Jasper Carrott was spot on about Sun readers. If Sun readers are offended by articles like this or know what the truth is they’d be ex-Sun readers.

  2. Marek says:

    Oh no! I have avoided reading UK newspapers today so I could watch the rugby match later in the evening without knowing who had won … next time, please use spoiler alerts, please :-p

  3. Simon Carne says:

    It seems to be a classic case of the headline writer messing up the journalist’s work. The article itself seems to be correct: it makes no mention of the EU.

    One does have to wonder what goes through the minds of the Eurocrats. With the name “Council of Europe” already having been taken in the 1940s by the human rights organisation, why did the EU create a “European Council” and, separately, a “Council of the European Union”. It’s almost as if they wanted the three to be confused with each other.

    1. Adam Wagner says:

      I agree about the headline writers messing this up – that’s why I deliberately didn’t mention the journalist’s name, which I usually do in these ‘poor reporting’ posts

  4. Pat says:

    I don’t think England played Ireland at football this weekend. (sorry)

  5. Chris says:

    What does the truth matter when it comes to flogging papers, nothing to the Sun

  6. The beauty of this blog piece is that it can be repeated every three or four weeks – just change the name of the newspaper and talk about sets in cricket or tricks in poker.

  7. James Lawson says:

    Implicit in this article is the view that the print media exist to educate and inform the public and that the manufacture of distorted opinion plays no part in a business model that profits from ignorance over enlightenment.

  8. Andrew says:

    The Sun writes confusing nonsense.

    And ursines do something smelly where there are lots and lots of trees . . .

    On the substance of the matter: who agrees with me that CRB checks should reveal convictions and nothing else? Not allegations which led to acquittal or – for any reason at all – were not brought to court.

    If the allegations were not put to the person concerned and tested in court – leading to conviction – they should not follow him around for the rest of his life.

  9. Don’t quite know whether to laugh or cry… But probably the latter.

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