Category: Bill of Rights


UK passes ‘human rights exam’, but with room to improve

6 June 2012 by

Last week the UN Human Rights Commissioner published the draft report of the second Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the UK’s human rights record (draft report here,  webcast of the UPR session here). The UPR involves delegations from UN member states asking questions and make recommendations to the UK government on the protection of human rights, which the government will consider before providing its response. The report is extremely wide-ranging, perhaps to its detriment, though many valuable and interesting insights are provided.

The UPR process was established in 2006. It involves a review of all 192 UN member states once every four years. As readers of this blog will know, the protection of human rights has a troubled recent history in the UK, with newspaper campaigns against “the hated Human Rights Act” providing the background to government pronouncements on human rights that veer from the sensible to the ridiculous. In this context, the UPR provides a valuable attempt at a serious assessment of human rights in this country.


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The Brighton Declaration and the “meddling court”

22 April 2012 by

The Brighton Declaration is the latest Declaration (see previously the Interlaken and Izmir Declarations) on the future (and reform) of the European Court of Human Rights made on behalf of the 47 member States to the Council of Europe, the parent organisation for the ECHR. Brighton was the venue, the United Kingdom having taken up the six month Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe late last year.

The workload problem

So what was agreed? A nine page, highly influential Declaration, building on Interlaken and Izmir, which is primarily concerned with trying to make the Court system sustainable, since it is overwhelmed by the number of applications reaching it. Over 150,000 applications are currently pending before the Court.

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Redressing the Democratic Deficit in Human Rights

20 April 2012 by

Who should decide questions of human rights, Parliament or the courts? Is there a democratic deficit in human rights? If so, how do we go about addressing it?  These are just some of the many questions asked at the conference hosted by the Arts and Humanities Council on Redressing the Democratic Deficit in Human Rights.

This conference took place on 17 and 18 April and was timed to coincide with the Brighton Conference. It was also timed to coincide with the launch of “Parliament and Human Rights”, research undertaken by Paul Yowell and Hayley Hooper, both of Oxford, and Murray Hunt, legal advisor to the Joint Committee on Human Rights (“JCHR”).

The conference featured a variety of eminent speakers and some lively debate took place over the two days. David Feldman, first legal advisor to the JCHR, kicked off events yesterday with the quote (I paraphrase): “there is nothing so dangerous in Parliament as when everyone agrees”, indicating that this is what took place following 9/11, and it was due to this that the JCHR’s mission became clear.

by Wessen Jazrawi

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UK vs. Strasbourg: don’t believe the hype – Alice Donald

20 April 2012 by

The Abu Qatada deadline debacle has once again thrust the European Court of Human Rights – and in particular, its relationship with the UK – into unwanted controversy just as European representatives gathered in Brighton to debate the Court’s future. This new fracas over the deportation of Abu Qatada has acted as a lightning rod for well-rehearsed criticisms of the Strasbourg Court – that it is a ‘meddling pseudo-judiciary’ and the enforcer of a villains’ charter.

A new report for the Equality and Human Rights Commission by researchers at London Metropolitan University and LSE, including myself, addresses these critiques as part of a broad analysis of the relationship between the UK and Strasbourg.

Among those interviewed for the report were the President of the European Court, Sir Nicolas Bratza; the outgoing Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg; and, in the UK, Baroness Hale, Sir John Laws and Jack Straw, along with two members of the Commission on a Bill of Rights, Lord Lester QC and Anthony Speaight QC. The report also conducts a thematic analysis of case law, as well as examining wider literature and the voluminous statistics produced by the Court.

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Things to put in your Brighton Conference rucksack

18 April 2012 by

As the last hurrah of its Chairmanship of the Council of Europe, beginning today the United Kingdom is hosting the High Level Conference on the Future of the European Court of Human Rights in Brighton. As delegates settle into their Eurostar seats on the way over, here are a few useful tips:

1. If you have forgotten sun cream, don’t worry! The weather forecast is terrible.

2. All of the important documents are on the Conference website, including the Conference Programme and the declarations from the last two such conferences: Izmir (2011) and Interlaken (2010). There is also a CoE press release. In case you need to refresh yourself on the CoE itself, the BBC has this useful profile.

3. The most important document is the draft Declaration which you are being asked to approve. The document has been the subject of frantic negotiations and you will no doubt receive an up to date version.  In the meantime, here is a slightly out-of-date version which even has useful track changes to show what has changed since the UK’s first draft. The somewhat ugly buzz-word for the Conference will be subsidiarity.

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An appeasement approach in the European Court of Human Rights? – Professor Helen Fenwick

17 April 2012 by

This piece asks whether, in the light of UK proposals for the reform of the ECtHR, and in the wake of the outcry in the UK over the Qatada decision (Othman v UK), the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) is taking an approach that looks like one of appeasement of certain signatory states. 

Two very recent decisions will be looked at which, it will be argued, contain appeasement elements. Each can be compared with a previous counter-part decision against the same member state which adopts a more activist approach; and each is not immediately obviously reconcilable with the previous decision. Is the Court revisiting the ‘true’ scope of the ECHR in a more deferential spirit?


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Future of human rights court must not be decided by shadowy late night deals – Angela Patrick

13 March 2012 by

This post, by Angela Patrick, Director of Human Rights Policy at JUSTICE, is the fourth in a series of posts analysing the UK’s draft “Brighton Declaration” on European Court of Human Rights reform.

It’s a busy week for the debate on human rights reform. Today at 2:15pm, the Joint Committee on Human Rights will question the UK judge and current President of the European Court of Human Rights, Sir Nicolas Bratza. Sir Nicholas returns to the UK in a hailstorm of UK reporting – accurate and inaccurate – on the perceived failings of the Strasbourg Court and its judges.

His visit coincides with the expected production of the second draft of the Brighton Declaration which will set out the latest list of reforms to the Strasbourg Court the UK Government asking the Council of Europe to consider. It also follows the departure of Michael Pinto-Duschinsky from the Commission on a Bill of Rights, citing irreconcilable differences and his concern that criticism of the Strasbourg court’s lack of democratic legitimacy was falling on deaf ears.

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I can’t say anything because you’ve brought up… the Holocaust

12 March 2012 by

As a sequel to this morning’s post on Michael Pinto-Duschinsky’s resignation from the Commission on a Bill of Rights, a comment on his Daily Mail article: I escaped the Nazis – so spare me these sneers about tyranny.

Pinto-Duschinsky explains that because he and his family escaped the Nazis, he has a special perspective on human rights:

I know what the abuse of human rights really means. It is certainly not the kind of nonsense we hear so much about today – parents smacking children, the eviction of travellers from illegal encampments or the deportation of foreign criminals in breach of their supposed ‘right to a family life’.

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And then there were seven: Pinto-Duschinsky quitting Bill of Rights Commission

12 March 2012 by

Updated | Dr Michael Pinto-Duschinsky has told the BBC’s Sunday Politics that he is resigning from the Commission on a Bill of Rights, effectively citing artistic differences. The seven other commissioners apparently wrote to the Justice Secretary stating Pinto-Duschinsky was “significantly impeding [the Commission’s] progress”. He has also written an article in the Daily Mail explaining why he quit (see my other post responding to that).

I argued last week that the Commission should open up more, but leaked internal emails were not exactly what I had in mind.

The resignation is hardly a surprise. Pinto-Duschinsky’s relationship with the other Commissioners has been rocky from the start, and he has been unabashed about complaining publicly when he has felt his views were being ignored. When the Commission published its initial consultation document he instantly told the Daily Mail that he ”strongly regret[ed] the terms in which it has been presented.” He was concerned that the document ignored the extent to which the European Convention had undermined Parliamentary Sovereignty. However strong Pinto-Duschinsky’s views, this public airing of Commission laundry must have made very difficult to hold reasoned debates behind closed doors.

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Law, politics, and the draft Brighton Declaration – Dr Mark Elliott

9 March 2012 by

The European Convention (via CoE)

This is the third in a series of posts analysing the UK’s draft “Brighton Declaration” on European Court of Human Rights reform.

Although not a “supreme law bill of rights”, the Human Rights Act 1998 is a significant constraint upon the political-legislative process. In this post, I argue that the extent of that constraint would likely diminish were the draft Brighton Declaration implemented in its present form.

At present, the Human Rights Act (HRA) serves two distinctive and important “bridging functions”. On the horizontal (national) plane, it operates as an interface between legal and political notions of constitutionalism: although the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty is formally undisturbed, the HRA reduces the political scope for legislative interference with rights by making the ECHR a benchmark by reference to which legislation falls to be judicially assessed – and condemned, via a declaration of incompatibility, if found wanting.

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Reforming or redefining the European Court of Human Rights? – Noreen O’Meara

8 March 2012 by

This is the second in a series of posts analysing the UK’s draft “Brighton Declaration” on European Court of Human Rights reform.

Reactions to proposals for reforming the European Court of Human Rights contained the recently leaked Draft Brighton Declaration have been rightly critical.  Concerns have been directed at specific features which could impact on the essential role and function of the Court, inhibit access to the court for victims, and which may prejudice the practical impact of the HRA 1998 and the debate on replacing it with a UK Bill of Rights. 

It is testament to the eagerness with which these reforms are awaited—and the weaknesses which have been detected—that the Open Society Justice Initiative has launched a petition against the direction these proposals are taking.

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The Commission on a Bill of Rights should open up

5 March 2012 by

1689 and all that

Things have been quiet recently on the Commission for a Bill of Rights front, with media attention focussed on the upcoming Brighton Conference on European Court of Human Rights reform and the growing controversy over the Justice and Security Green Paper. But this important Commission only has 10 months left to publish its report, and it should be courting public attention, not avoiding it.

There has been limited action on the Commission’s website, with publication of relatively illuminating minutes from the 15 November and 14 December meetings. The website has also published a list of all responses to the recent consultation. Apparently there were over 900 responses to the somewhat scanty discussion paper which was published last year.

Two suggestions. First, in my view, all of the responses should be published on the Commission’s website, not just a list of the respondees. I asked the Commission by email they would be doing so, and they responded:

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Draft declaration on British ECHR reform plans leaked – Antoine Buyse

29 February 2012 by

Updated | The French translation of the draft of the so-called ‘Brighton Declaration’ (the seaside city where state parties to the ECHR will meet in April to discuss reforms of the Court and the Convention) has been leaked after the UK government refused to circulate the text publicly.

Last week, the draft was presented to the Ministers’ deputies of the Council of Europe. Amongst other, the draft suggests to include the principle of subsidiarity and the margin of appreciation explicitly in the Convention text – I am not sure what that would change to current practice, unless it becomes mandatory for the Court to give a margin of appreciation.

Also, the time to lodge complaints after all domestic remedies have been exhausted would possible be reduced from the current six months to two, three or four months. One of the most controversial aspects is that the Court would be barred from considering cases “identical in substance to a claim that has been considered by a national court”, according to BBC reporting, “”unless the national court “clearly erred” in its interpretation, or raises a serious question affecting the interpretation of the Convention” according to the Open Society Institute. This would carry in it the danger of almost completely taking away any substantive role for the European Court of Human Rights.

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Attorney General nuances the PM’s dig at European Court

31 January 2012 by

The Prime Minister’s speech at the Council of Europe (see our coverage here) has attracted significant press attention over the past week – ranging from flag-waving, sabre-rattling support to criticism from Sir Nicholas Bratza (the British President of the Court).

Hot on the heels of Cameron’s address on Wednesday, the Attorney-General Dominic Grieve gave a speech on Thursday which set out in further detail the Government’s plans for reform of the European Court of Human Rights and the incorporation of human rights into UK law.

The full text of the Attorney-General’s speech is not yet available (although a similar speech he gave last year and his own speech to the Council of Europe can be found here). However, it was interesting to compare his comments with those of David Cameron just a day before.

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Is the European Court of Human Rights obsessively interventionist?

22 January 2012 by

Brought to you by Andrew Tickell

Marie-Bénédicte Dembour calls them ‘forgotten cases’.  As Adam Wagner demonstrated in a blog post of last week, Eurosceptic newspapers have a particular interest in overlooking the European Court of Human Right’s decisions of inadmissibility, seeking to buttress claims that the Court is wildly interventionist, imposing alien “European” logics on Britain with gleeful abandon. 

Both the Telegraph and Daily Mail covered the findings of a report commissioned by backbench Tory MPs critical of the Court’s jurisdiction, both simply replicating its astonishingly misleading content.  The papers contended that the UK was defeated in three in four cases brought against it, with violations of the Convention being found in 75% of human right petitions to Strasbourg.

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