This is a short version of an article on the subject to be published by John Edwards, Professor Emeritus of Human Rights at London University
There have been three major conferences over the past two years (at Interlaken, Izmir, and Brighton) to discuss the functioning of the European Court of Human Rights and possibilities for its development and reform. Each provided an opportunity to scrutinise such important components of the Court’s work as the subsidiarity principle, the (quite separate) principle of the margin of appreciation, the prioritisation of Convention articles, admissibility criteria, the idea of “European consensus”, “just satisfaction”, and “significant disadvantage” as well as broader topics such as the future role of the Court and whether a court of individual petition with case law as its only corpus of wisdom is the best way of promoting and protecting human rights in Europe. On each occasion debate was hijacked by the singular topic of reducing the backlog of cases. Wherever one of these components had a bearing on the Court’s overload, discussion was virtually confined to how it could be amended to cut the backlog and bring applications and judgements into balance. Continue reading →
C.N. v. THE UNITED KINGDOM – 4239/08 – HEJUD  ECHR 1911 – read judgment here.
The European Court of Human Rights recently held that the UK was in breach of Article 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights by failing to have specific legislation in place which criminalised domestic slavery.
Thankfully Article 4 cases (involving slavery and forced labour) are rare in the UK. Indeed this is only the fifth post on this blog about Article 4, which perhaps shows just how few and far between they are, and the UK has a proud history of seeking to prevent slavery. Although British merchants and traders, to their great shame, played a major part in the trans-Atlantic slave trade throughout the 1600s and 1700s, Britain was then at the forefront of the abolition of the slave trade and slavery from 1807 onwards and the common law has always considered slavery to be abhorrent (as the famous case of ex parte Somersettin 1772 made clear).
Tragically, however, slavery has not been consigned to the history books. Across the world new forms of slavery are prevalent. The International Labour Organisation estimates that there are a minimum of 12.3 million people in forced labour worldwide, and one particular form of modern slavery – human trafficking – is one of the fastest-growing forms of human rights abuse. The UK, as a major destination country for trafficking victims, is not immune from this trend.
Smith & Ors v The Ministry of Defence  EWCA Civ 1365 – Read judgment
Updated – the first two paragraphs of this post have been amended as they were factually inaccurate. Many apologies for this.
Last month, the Court of Appeal decided that the negligence claims of the families of five British soldiers killed or injured on duty in Iraq could go ahead. It would be for the High Court to decide on the facts whether decisions made about troops’ equipment and training fell within the long-standing doctrine of ‘combat immunity’. The appellants were however unsuccessful in arguing that the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA) applied.
The case concerned claims brought by the families of five men killed or injured in south-east Iraq. Corporal Allbutt was killed and Troopers Twiddy and Julien injured in Challenger II tanks in fratricide, or ‘friendly fire’, incidents on 25 March 2003. Privates Hewett and Ellis and Lance Corporal Redpath were killed in their Snatch Land Rovers by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) on 16 July 2005, 28 February 2006 and 9 August 2007 respectively (the ‘Snatch Landrover claims’).
Last month I posted on the troubling case of Rachel Corrie, a 23-year-old protester killed by an Israeli military bulldozer in 2003. In August, an Israeli court ruled that the Israeli Defence Ministry bore no responsibility in civil law for her death.
I complained that the reporting of the ruling had been poor, despite a reasonably good summary in English produced by the court. One of the main problems undoubtedly was the lack of an English translation of the 73-page Hebrew ruling. Until now, that is. Through the magic of the internet – and a huge amount of work – Irène Solomon, a legal advisor at Ofgem and reader of this blog, has translated the judgment from Hebrew into English. She has taken on this mammoth task for free in her personal capacity and has given me permission to publish her work online as a UKHRB exclusive.
You can download the translation here (PDF) and it is also reproduced after the break below. I should emphasise that this is not an official translation, but it does appear to me to be a very good effort indeed.
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).
Back to basics, then, as the new academic year starts. Which courts decide human rights cases, when, and by what rules?
Well, the easy one is domestic courts. They decide whether a public authority has acted or omitted to act unlawfully under the Human Rights Act.
If the act is a decision about housing or immigration status or prisoners’ rights, the courts can quash it, and so tell the decision-maker either to decide it again or if there is only one lawful answer, tell the decision-maker what decision to take. If it was a past course of conduct (unlawful detention, intrusion into privacy, unacceptable pollution), they may award damages for human rights breaches. If the domestic law is itself unlawful, and cannot be interpreted HR-compliantly, the domestic courts can make a declaration of incompatibility under s.4 of HRA – it does the claimant no good in respect of his claim, though it throws a huge gauntlet down to Parliament to do something about the non-compliant law. And in the criminal courts, the obvious sanction is to dismiss the prosecution for some abuse of process involving the defendant’s human rights.
Harrow Community Support Ltd v. Secretary of State for Defence  EWHC 1921 (Admin), Haddon-Cave J, 10 July 2012, read judgment
In 776BC, the Olympics consisted of one day’s running and wrestling. A hundred years later, chariots and single horses arrived, thanks to the influence of Phaidon of Argos (a big shot in seventh-century Greece), and I dare say the civic pride which each participating Greek city-state brought to the Games was already running high. But I don’t suppose either Phaidon or Baron de Coubertin would have predicted the move which triggered this piece of litigation. The MoD decided to site a missile launcher and military personnel on the roof of a Council tower block in Leytonstone during the Olympics. Like all military hardware, it has a nice acronym, GBAD, being a Ground Based Air Defence system.
Anyway, a residents’ association formed by residents of Fred Wigg Tower, 15 storeys and containing 117 flats, decided to challenge the MoD. As their petition put it, “We, the undersigned residents of FWT, Montague Road, Leytonstone E11 3 EP, do not want explosive missile systems placed on the roof of our home”. Nor, I suppose, do any of us, but some of us may want someone else to have missile launchers on their roofs.
In my post of today about checks on EU legality, I made the point that no institution formally monitors the EU apart from EU institutions. Moves are afoot to change that, though not in a form that diehard Eurosceptics are likely to relish. Article 6 of the Lisbon Treaty of European Union says that the EU shall accede to the ECHR. As and when that occurs, the European Court of Human Rights will assume a formal role in adjudicating upon the legality of EU measures. The details of accession could not be settled by the purely EU Treaty of Lisbon, hence the ongoing negotiations.
However, things have been happening very recently. Yesterday, 19 June, a joint informal body of members of the European Parliament and Council of Europe parliamentarians welcomed the prospect of talks resuming on EU accession to the European Convention on Human Rights, and, last week, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe decided to pursue negotiations with the European Union with a view to finalising the legal instruments setting out the way in which the EU would accede to the ECHR.
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 hatedHuman 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.
Adam Wagner has compared the prisoner voting issue to a ping-pong ball in a wind tunnel, noting that ‘the ball is now back on the UK’s side of the table’. Indeed, the UK must still allow at least some prisoners the vote, as required by the 2005 judgment in Hirst v UK (No.2) and the 2010 judgment in Greens & MT v UK. Over at EJIL: Talk!, Marko Milanovic rightly accounts for the unholy mix of law and (inter)national politics that has generated the Grand Chamber’s unprincipled judgment. Indeed, as Carl Gardner suggests on the Head of Legal blog all that logically remains of the Hirst judgment is that automatic disenfranchisement of prisoners that are sentenced for less than 3 years (probably) breaches the convention.
Remember the far right? They are back. The ultra-nationalist Golden Dawn party has just won 7% in the Greek elections. Although it rejects “neo-Nazi” labels, its symbolism and style clearly channel fascist parties of the past. It has a Swastika-like logo and inflammatory anti-immigration policies. And for those who thought ultra-nationalism was confined to the history books, this YouTube video of leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos‘s victory speech will be particularly unsettling. To members of the audience who stayed after a black-shirted thug screamed at them to stand up for the leader’s entrance, Mr Michaloliakos made the ominous promise that “a “new golden dawn of Hellenism is rising” and for those “who betray this homeland the time has come to fear”.
The recent successes of far right parties in Europe, which have benefited from recession protest votes and anti-immigration populism, is indeed something to fear. But it also presents an opportunity to reflect on the importance of international human rights standards.
In the ongoing debate over the role of a European system of human rights law, lip service is often paid to the origins of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) in post-war Europe. The rise of Fascism had killed tens of millions. The Nuremberg trials, an early experiment for international justice, had been a success. A Europe-wide system of rights protection seemed sensible. It still does.
What – if anything – can a claimant do when she suspects that the domestic law is not only out of kilter with Strasbourg jurisprudence but is also denying her even an opportunity to bring a claim? Taking arms against a whole legal system may be an heroic ideal, but the mundane reality is a strike out under CPR rule 3.4 by a district judge in the County Court. It is a long way from there to the European Court of Human Rights.
This was the position in which Patricia Reynolds and her daughter Catherine King found themselves following the sad death of (respectively) their son and brother. David Reynolds suffered from schizophrenia. On 16 March 2005 he contacted his NHS Care Co-ordinator and told him that he was hearing voices telling him to kill himself. There were no beds available in the local psychiatric unit, so Mr Reynolds was placed in a Council run intensive support unit. His room was on the sixth floor and at about 10.30 that night Mr Reynolds broke his (non-reinforced) window and fell to his death. Continue reading →
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 refusedto 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.
Why should we bother with the European Convention on Human Rights? Many of those that would never contemplate leaving the ECHR still question whether we should abide by controversial decisions such as those on prisoners’ voting rights or deportation. UCL’s Professor Richard Bellamy attempted to answer this question at the Statute Law Society’s talk on Monday evening. He said that the UK should abide by the ECHR, which gains its legitimacy by being the best way for democratic states regulate their relationships and protect their citizens’ rights.
The talk was entitled ‘The Democratic Legitimacy of International Human Rights Conventions’ (IHRCs). Although perhaps not in such terms, this is a topic that exercises many every week: from those questioning who exactly decides which human rights are the ones that count, to those asking why ‘unelected judges’ in Europe can tell a democracy how to govern itself. Professor Bellamy started by noting that mature democracies are generally less keen on IHRCs; at the post-war inception of the ECHR, he said it was Germany and Italy showing most enthusiasm. Even now, many ‘democratising’ countries show less opposition to Europe’s human rights structures.
Hirsi Jamaar and Others v. Italy (Application no. 27765/09) – Read judgment
The European Court of Human Rights has held that a group of Somalian and Eritrean nationals who were intercepted by Italian Customs boats and returned to Libya fell within the jurisdiction of Italy for the purposes of Article 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights . The return involved a violation of Article 3 (Anti-torture and inhumane treatment), Article 4 of Protocol 4 (collective expulsion of aliens), and Article 13 (right to an effective remedy). The patrols that returned migrants to Libya were in breach of the non-refoulement principle.
The applicants were eleven Somalian nationals and thirteen Eritrean nationals who were part of a group of two hundred migrants who left Libya in order to reach the Italian coast. On 6th May 2009 Italian ships intercepted them 35 miles south of Lampedusa and returned them to Triploi, in Libya. During the voyage the migrants were not told where they were going (they assumed they were being taken to Italy), nor were they identified.
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