Times on the legal naughty step for bizarre ‘right to marry’ headline splash

29 December 2013 by

photoThe debate over the European Union’s Charter of Fundamental Rights is already mired with misunderstanding (see this and this), but amazingly Saturday’s Times (£) managed to up the stupid-quotient by another few notches.

The headline was “Ministers to block ‘right to marry’ in EU backlash“. Apparently the Government has “vowed to block a fresh push to introduce new EU human rights, such as the right to marry and the right to collective bargaining, into Britain“. And as the Times’ political editor Francis Elliot (not to be confused with the generally sound legal correspondent Frances Gibb) reported:

The charter enshrines a host of rights not found in other declarations, including personal, work and family relations. One of them is a proposed “right to marry and found a family”.

The only problem is that… the right to “marry and found a family” already exists in the European Convention on Human Rights. It’s in Article 12. It has been there since the UK signed up to the ECHR in 1953. Here it is:

Men and women of marriageable age have the right to marry and to found a family, according to the national laws governing the exercise of this right.

So, the Times headline and text were almost entirely misleading. The right already exists in both international law (through the ECHR) and domestic law (through the Human Rights Act).

For interest, here is how the right looks in the EU Charter under its Article 9.

The right to marry and the right to found a family shall be guaranteed in accordance with the national laws governing the exercise of these rights.

Looks pretty similar, no? There is only one notable difference – no mention of “men and women” in the Charter. This distinction may come into play once the UK has legalised same-sex marriage – see my post and paragraph 61 of this case, which mentions the Charter.

I imagine that somewhere in the Times’ mysterious editorial process that point was being made by someone but was considered too subtle for the front page and/or was simply misunderstood. In any case, it is just wrong to say the right to marry doesn’t already exist and is going to be imported by the dasterdly EU.

It should also be noted that the entire basis of this article is this 3-page EU discussion paper (see page 3), which offers an an option for discussion of making

all fundamental rights guaranteed in the charter directly applicable in the Member states [which] would allow citizens to rely on these rights be- fore national courts in all situations including those which are not related to the implementation of eu law.

You might think that a front-page splash exposing an option in a European Union discussion paper is the definition of a slow news day. But in the current Europhobic climate, even this sad little discussion paper is being presented as an attack on the UK’s sovereignty.

So, The Times – onto the legal naughty step. You can come down once you have read the ECHR or bothered to check your front page articles with someone who knows what they are talking about.

If you would like to complain to the Press Complaints Commission  just click here. It does sometimes make a difference.

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9 comments


  1. Andrew says:

    James: the gap in your argument is that Brezhnev had stooges who decided what went in Pravda and Izvestia and what they said about it. Who in your world is fillng that role in the UK now?

    And do you want anything done about it and if so what?

  2. David Lamming says:

    Adam – I made the same point in a letter I sent to the Editor of The Times (sent by e-mail some hours before your post!), but it has not been published today, nor has any other letter been published pointing out the error. (The only correction – on page 29 – is to inform readers that the geomagnetic storm which caused a blackout in Québec was in 1989, not 1999!) It is also somewhat ironic that the ECtHR in the Schalk case in 2010 specifically left it to contracting states to decide whether to provide for same-sex marriage (“… the question whether or not to allow same-sex marriage is left to regulation by the national law of the Contracting State.”), which the UK Government did in 2013 despite substantial opposition to its consultation document. Chris Grayling can hardly complain, therefore, that, at least so far as the right to marry is concerned, there has been ‘absurd’ intervention in UK domestic law, whether by the ECHR, the ECtHR or the EU Charter.

  3. Gary Holford says:

    So- does this mean that every sex offender and murderer will be given the option too? Are these people bringing attention to laws that will allow more criminals to remain in Britain becaue their right to marry will mean they have a family life over here and can no longer be deported? Please enlighten us all on why this old law has been brought into the spotlight and what is proposed to counteract any nonsense.

  4. James Lawson XIX says:

    English newspapers began their concerted and co-ordinated effort to manipulate public opinion through Europhobic news-management shortly after the courts began to enforce Article 8 rights in high profile cases such as Campbell, Mosley et al. Their hostility to any public support for EU social policy protection enshrined within the TEU and TFEU enforced by the CJEU in general and the rights-based jurisdiction of the ECtHR in particular is quite deliberate and reflects the view of their Corporate Sponsors against whose commercial interests such policies operate. To this extent, newspapers are no more objective than the Brezniev-era pages of ‘Pravda’ and ‘Izvestia’ in failing to report issues such as EU money directed to flood relief being directed instead straight to the Treasury or the refusal by the Government to accept EU Money intended to ensure that the growing numbers of ‘food-banks’ are adequately stocked with food’.

    Since the EU Treaty Reforms introduced a greater degree of Qualified voting at intergovernmental level in the Council of Ministers and the United Kingdom could no longer rely on the veto to the same extent that it once did, the maintenance of a climate of public hostility towards the EU and Council of Europe serves a political purpose in that the UK is able to exert a greater influence in the Council of Ministers and the European Council than it might otherwise achieve if those bodies are convinced of a credible threat on the part of the United Kingdom to withdraw from those bodies which it would be undermined if those bodies became aware of even a scintilla of support for them by the UK public.

    UK Newspapers therefore play a vital part in the process of disinformation that serves both a political and commercial purpose by ensuring that those of voting age are kept in ignorance of inconvenient social, political and human rights that come into conflict with financial and commercial interests.

    It is therefore extremely naive to believe that complaints to the Press, in whatever number will result in any change in direction.

    1. jacklumber says:

      Regretably for British democracy the ‘sheeples’ among the British public will not realise what ‘human rights’ are they have lost until it appears in their own living room and the Stasi knock on their front door. In the meantime they will soak up and regurgitate what the poisoned press and toxic self seeking power grabbing politicians tell them as they are led like turkeys towards Xmas!

    2. pfstjjp says:

      You’re entirely right about the nature of our press, but the battle in its pages against the ECHR began as soon as the Human Rights Act began to pass through Parliament. The press immediately spotted the threat posed to kiss ‘n’ tell stories by Article 8, and vociferously campaigned (ably abetted by Lord Wakeham of the PCC) to have the press exempted from the Act. Given that the Act put the right to freedom of expression on a statutory footing for the first time in Britain, this quite simply beggars belief (or rather it would do so if this wasn’t the British press that we’re talking about here).

  5. The technical term we use for this kind of thing in ecclesiastical law circles is “utter bollocks”…

  6. Mark says:

    Isn’t there a human right to publish twaddle?

    1. Adam Wagner says:

      Yes, article 10.

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