Times on the legal naughty step for bizarre ‘right to marry’ headline splash
29 December 2013
The 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.
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