ECtHR


Are Christians really marginalised in this country?

7 September 2012 by

We will have to wait some time before Strasbourg hands down its judgment in the religious discrimination cases it heard earlier this week.

Whatever the outcome – which is perhaps predictable – the Court’s ruling will have a significant influence on the place of religion in public life and on how the relationship between religion and the state should be structured to reflect the aims of fairness and mutual respect envisaged in the Convention.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission argues in its intervention submission that Strasbourg – and the UK courts – should move on from their “restrictive” interpretation of Article 9, summed up by Lord Bingham’s oft-cited description of the Court’s position in R (SB) v Governors of Denbigh High School [2006] UKHL 15

The Strasbourg institutions have not been at all ready to find an interference with the right to manifest a religious belief in practice or observance where a person has voluntarily accepted an employment or role which does not accommodate that practice or observance and there are other means open to the person to practise or observe his or her religion without undue hardship or inconvenience.[para 23]

(This is a revised intervention after the EHRC responded to widespread criticism of its proposed argument in support of “reasonable accommodation” of employees’ beliefs – see Alasdair Henderson’s post on this dust-up “Leap of Faith” and our following post on the reversal of the EHRC’s position.)
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Religious freedom in UK to be considered by Strasbourg Court

3 September 2012 by

Macfarlane and others v United Kingdom (ECHR 329 (2012) – read press release

Tomorrow the Strasbourg Court will hear complaints in four applications that UK law has failed adequately to protect the applicants’ right to manifest their religion, contrary to Articles 9 (freedom of religion) and 14 (prohibition of discrimination). See our posts on these cases here and here, and in the related Preddy case here.

All four applicants are practising Christians who complain that UK law did not sufficiently protect their rights to freedom of religion and freedom from discrimination at work. Ms Eweida, a British Airways employee, and Ms Chaplin, a geriatrics nurse, complain that their employers placed restrictions on their visibly wearing Christian crosses around their necks while at work. Ms Ladele, a Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages, and Mr McFarlane, a Relate counsellor, complain about their dismissal for refusing to carry out certain of their duties which they considered would condone homosexuality.  Their challenges to their consequent dismissal were rejected by the UK courts on the basis that their employers were entitled to refuse to accommodate views which contradicted their fundamental declared principles – and, all the more so, where these principles were required by law, notably under the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007.

The judgment is awaited with considerable anticipation: the National Secular Society and the Equality and Human Rights Commission have both filed  intervening submissions under Rule 44 §3 of the Rules of the Court.

Hunting, animals, and the evolving landscape of rights

4 July 2012 by

Herrmann v Germany (Application no. 9300/07) 26 June 2012 – read judgment

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that the obligation of a landowner to allow hunting on his property violated his Convention rights. Although the majority based their conclusion on his right to peaceful enjoyment of possessions,  the partially concurring and dissenting opinions and the judgment as a whole provide an interesting insight into the way freedom of conscience challenges are to be approached in a secular society where religion holds less sway than individual ethical positions on certain issues.

Background

In 2002 the Federal Constitutional Court in Germany ruled that the granting of exceptional authorisation for the slaughter of animals without previous stunning, on religious grounds, did not breach the German Basic Law Schächt-Entscheidung (BVerfGE 99, 1, 15 January 2002). The social uproar that followed the ruling led to the German constitutional legislature taking a significant step aimed at protecting animal welfare with the 2002 constitutional reform, by including Article 20a in the Basic Law:

“Mindful also of its responsibility toward future generations, the State shall protect the natural foundations of life and animals through legislation…”
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Abu Hamza and Babar Ahmad can be extradited to USA, rules human rights court

10 April 2012 by

BABAR AHMAD AND OTHERS v. THE UNITED KINGDOM – 24027/07 [2012] ECHR 609 – Read judgment / press release

The European Court of Human Rights (Fourth Section), sitting as a Chamber, has found that five men accused of serious terrorist activities can be extradited from the UK to the US to face trial.

They had argued that their article 3 rights (article 3 prohibits torture, inhuman and degrading treatment) would be violated if they were extradited and convicted. A sixth man’s case has been adjourned pending further submissions from the parties to the proceedings.

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Who should have the final word on human rights? – Dr Ed Bates

6 March 2012 by

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

Much of the criticism directed toward the European Court of Human Rights over the last year or so, in this country at least, has been that it is too ready to overrule decisions made by the competent United Kingdom national authorities. It is said that British courts have already addressed the relevant human rights arguments under the Human Rights Act, so it is quite wrong that Strasbourg should now ‘overrule’ them.

A recent high profile example, apparently, was Strasbourg’s finding of a violation of the Convention in the Abu Qatada case, despite the House of Lords’ earlier ruling, holding no violation of the ECHR. (See, for example, the Home Secretary’s expressions of frustration about this).

The leaked (British) draft of the Brighton Declaration (for commentary, see here, here and here) concerning the on-going reform of the ECHR is apparently seeking to rebalance matters in this regard, and perhaps put the Strasbourg Court in its place.

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Italy lose in Europe over asylum seeker boat interception – Henry Oliver

26 February 2012 by

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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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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Al-Skeini may open door to more war claims

15 August 2011 by

The recent European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) judgment in Al-Skeini will certainly enter the Court’s hall of fame as a landmark judgment for pushing the boundaries of the European Convention on Human Rights’s jurisdiction. While it may take us some time to appreciate the full implications of this judgment, one of its possible consequences is the potential opening of the Court’s doors to claims arising from international armed conflicts.

by Melinda Padron

In Al-Skeini, the ECtHR determined that there may be instances when the European Convention on Human Rights may apply outside the ‘espace juridique’, that is the Convention’s ‘legal space’, or within the territories of the Convention’s member states (see Alasdair Henderson’s post on the ruling, which concerned Article 1 of the Convention). This may occur when agents of a member state are exercising authority and control over individuals (personal rather than strictly territorial control) within a given territory upon which that same member state is exercising some public powers. Accordingly, in the case of Al-Skeini, the Convention was found to be applicable to actions taken by British troops in Basra (Iraq), where the UK assumed the exercise of some of the public powers normally exercised by a sovereign government (see paras. 149-150 of the judgment).

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A leap of faith?

20 July 2011 by

In the midst of all the coverage of the phone hacking scandal and the mounting woes of News Corporation an interesting piece of human rights news from the past week got lost: the announcement by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (“EHRC”) that it is applying to intervene in four cases before the European Court of Human Rights being brought by Christians who claim their Article 9 rights are not being sufficiently protected in UK law.

The applicants are Nadia Eweida, Shirley Chaplin, Lillian Ladele and Gary McFarlane, each of whom has lost claims of workplace discrimination on the grounds of religion and belief in the UK courts over the past couple of years (see our general comment pieces here and here). The EHRC has now said that in its view “Judges have interpreted the law too narrowly in religion or belief discrimination claims” and that “the way existing human rights and equality law has been interpreted by judges is insufficient to protect freedom of religion or belief.”

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War, power and control: the problem of jurisdiction

14 July 2011 by

The decisions by the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights in Al-Skeini and Al-Jedda, handed down last Thursday, have generally been hailed as leap forward for human rights protection. We have already provided a summary of the decisions and pointed to some of the commentary here.

However, it is worth considering the core parts of these rulings a little more carefully. Without wishing to put too much of a dampener on the initial excitement from human rights campaigners about the outcome, the Court’s reasoning is perhaps not quite the radical breakthrough it first appeared to be. In fact, as Judge Bonello pointed out in his concurring opinion (which has drawn a lot of attention for his comments about ‘human rights imperialism’), the principles governing jurisdiction under Article 1 of the ECHR are not that much clearer following these decisions.

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Strasbourg judge: “Those who export war ought to see to the parallel export of guarantees against the atrocities of war”

7 July 2011 by

Updated | The legal blogs have been busy reporting on this morning’s important decisions of the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights in Al-Skeini and Al-Jeddasee my post.

There has been coverage already from PHD Studies in Human Rights, the Human Rights in Ireland Blog (update – see also EJIL: Talk: “Let me put this as strongly as I can: this is as close as we’ve ever come to the European Court overruling Bankovic. And good riddance – except, as we will see, the Court’s disavowal of Bankovic is only half-hearted at best.”). The Guardian has also published an article on the case in which Phil Shiner of Public Interest Lawyers claims that the decisions will reopen the case for a wider public inquiry into alleged detainee mistreatment in Iraq; the firm recently failed in a judicial review of a decision not to hold a public inquiry on behalf of 127 Iraqis.

Many thanks to Antoine Buyse of the ECHR Blog for highlighting the lyrical and eminently quotable concurring opinion of Maltese Judge Giovanni Bonello, who since writing the judgment has retired from the court. Bonello said that he would have applied a slightly different “functional jurisdiction” test to decide whether the applicants fell within the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom.

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European Convention on Human Rights applied in Basrah, UK failed duties to Iraqi civilians

7 July 2011 by

Al-Skeini v. United Kingdom, European Court of Human Rights Grand Chamber (Application no. 55721/07) – Read judgment / press release

Al-Jedda v. the UK (Application No. 27021/08)- Read judgment / press release

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that from 1 May 2003 to 28 June 2004 the UK had jurisdiction under Article 1 (obligation to respect human rights) of the European Convention on Human Rights in respect of civilians killed during security operations carried out by UK soldiers in Basrah.

The court went on to find in Al-Skeini that there had been a failure to conduct an independent and effective investigation into the deaths of the relatives of five of the six applicants, in violation of Article 2 (right to life) of the Convention. The court awarded 17,000 euros to five of the six applicants, in addition to 50,000 euros in costs jointly.

In Al-Jedda, the court found a violation of Article 5 (1) (right to liberty and security) of the European Convention in relation to the internment of an Iraqi for more than three years (2004- 2007) in a detention centre in Basrah.

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Murder, miscarriage of justice and Scots judicial autonomy

27 May 2011 by

Fraser v Her Majesty’s Advocate [2011] UKSC 24 (25 May 2011)  – Read judgment

The Supreme Court has had to consider (for the second time in a month) the ticklish question of what constitutes a “miscarriage of justice”.

The business is rendered more ticklish because this was a case being handled by the High Court of Justiciary, the court of last resort in all criminal matters in Scotland.

Our previous post questioned whether the finding of a miscarriage of justice entitled the individual, whose conviction is quashed, to compensation for the slur on their innocence. Here the Court scrutinises the actual diagnosis of a miscarriage of justice. They had to do so in this case because their jurisdiction depended on it. This needs some explaining.

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Radical cleric European human rights claim rejected

8 February 2011 by

Mustafa Kamal MUSTAFA (ABU HAMZA) (No. 1) v the United Kingdom – 31411/07 [2011] ECHR 211 (18 January 2011) – Read judgment

The European Court of Human Rights has rejected radical preacher Abu Hamza’s claim that his 2005-6 trial, at which he was convicted of soliciting to murder, inciting racial hatred and terrorism charges, was unfair. He claimed that a virulent media campaign against him and the events of 9/11 made it impossible for the jury to be impartial.

Abu Hamza has lived in the UK since 1979. from 1997-2003 was Imam at the Finsbury Park Mosque, London. Between 1996 and 2000 he delivered a number of sermons and speeches which later formed the basis for charges of soliciting to murder, using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour with intent to stir up racial hatred, possessing a document or recording with the same intent.

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Man detained by police under mental health law was not denied access to justice

10 December 2010 by

Seal v United Kingdom (Application no. 50330/07) – Read judgment

The European Court of Human Rights has rejected the claim of a man detained by the police for 9 days under mental health law. Despite legislation deliberately making it difficult to sue authorities carrying out mental health functions, the court ruled that the law did not unduly restrict access to the courts.

Although Mr Seal ultimately lost, his claim – and in particular a strong dissenting judgment by Baroness Hale in the House of Lords – highlights the tricky line the state must tread in relation to people with mental health problems in relation to their access to justice.

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