Silence is the language of God, all else is poor translation.
(Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī , 13th Century Persian Islamic scholar and poet)
These words were the last in the ruling by DJ McNally in the Belfast county court, acquitting Pastor McConnell of grossly offending Muslims in a sermon that had been delivered in church but also transmitted over the internet. The Pastor had declared from the pulpit the there were more and more Muslims “putting the Koran’s hatred of Christians and Jews alike into practice”, and the sermon had continued in a similar vein. Continue reading →
The drowning of several hundred migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean has dominated headlines in recent weeks, prompting a special meeting of the European Council on 23 April. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has called for ‘a robust search-and-rescue operation in the Central Mediterranean, not only a border patrol’.
Under the ECHR, migrants rescued at sea cannot be returned if there is a ‘real risk’ of treatment that is incompatible with the absolute provisions of the Convention. Jacques Hartmann and Irini Papanicolopulu consider claims that human rights law therefore creates a perverse incentive for EU Member States not to conduct operations proactively.
How is a Member State of the ECHR supposed to react when the UN Security Council tells it to do one thing and the Convention requires it to do another? That is the interesting and important question which the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights was presented with, and dodged, in its recent decision in Nada v. Switzerland.
Mr Nada is an 82-year-old Italian-Egyptian financier and businessman, who in November 2001 found himself in the unfortunate position of having his name added to the international list of suspected funders and supporters of al-Qaeda and the Taliban, which is maintained by the Sanctions Committee of the UN Security Council. Mr Nada has consistently denied that he has any connection to al-Qaeda or any other terrorist group, and in 2005 the Swiss Government closed an investigation after finding that the accusations against him were unsubstantiated. However, despite this Mr Nada remained on the list until September 2009. During the intervening 8 years the impact on Mr Nada’s health and his private and family life was severe, so he brought a claim against Switzerland for breach of his Article 8 rights, as well as breaches of Article 13 (right to an effective remedy), Article 3 (right not to be subjected to ill-treatment), Article 5 (right to liberty) and Article 9 (right to freedom of religion).
A number of recent cases have ignited an interesting debate on the place of religion in the UK court system, and whether the courts are doing enough to ensure religious freedom as they are obligated to do under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The most notorious example has been McFarlane v Relate Avon Ltd, an unfair dismissal claim brought by a relationship counselor who as a result of his Christian beliefs refused to promote gay sex. The former Archbishop of Canterbury submitted a witness statement stating that cases such of these should be heard by judges with special religious sensitivity. Lord Justice Laws in the Court of Appeal rejected his arguments outright.
We also posted last week on the Hardeep Singh case, in which Mr Justice Eady in the High Court effectively threw out a libel action because it rested upon fundamental principles of legal doctrine which could not properly be examined by a secular court. We posted:
The European Convention - now it has its own blog page
We have added a new “ECHR” page where you can access an index of the Articles of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The page can be accessed by clicking here, or by clicking on the “ECHR” tab at the top of any page on the blog.
Each Article has its own separate page with the wording of the Article itself and a brief summary of how it works in law.
You can access this summary by clicking on the “more info” link. You can also click on the “posts” link to see all posts on the UK Human Rights Blog relating to that Article. A few articles don’t have a live link “posts” as we have not posted on it yet. We would welcome your comments on this or on any way we can make the blog better.
Lord Carey of Clifton, responding to Lord Justice Laws’ observations in MacFarlane, has called this latest dust-up about religion in the courts a “deeply unedifying clash of rights“. It is indeed a clash of rights, but unedifying it is not. It is precisely when these rights collide that some real, hard thinking is generated, not only about the precise content of these rights, but their historical purpose and their proper function in modern society.
It may be that when the architects of the Convention drafted Article 9, guaranteeing freedom of thought, conscience and religion, they did not foresee that its future role would not be so much the protection of oppressed believers against Soviet-style secularisation but instead a thorn in the flesh of public authority employers seeking enforce their legitimate objectives against non-compliant religious employees.
This blog is maintained for information purposes only. It is not intended to be a source of legal advice and must not be relied upon as such. Blog posts reflect the views and opinions of their individual authors, not of chambers as a whole.