Updated | The relationship between the UK and the European Court remains turbulent and fractious. The Court has been the subject of significant criticism, notably from some politicians and commentators in the UK, relating to its supposed interference in domestic, sovereign questions and the quality of its judges.
Some commentators say that the UK may have to withdraw from the jurisdiction of the court. Michael Pinto-Duschinsky argues that if (as is highly likely) the Council of Europe refuses to institute a “democratic override” for states of European Court of Human Rights decisions, withdrawal should be seriously considered. MP Nick Herbert argues that the UK should withdraw immediately.
Others have proposed withdrawing from the European Convention altogether. For example, in April, the Home Secretary, Theresa May, said that temporary withdrawal from the Convention was one option being considered by the UK government in its efforts to deport the Islamic cleric Omar Mohammed Othman (also known as Abu Qatada). Two members of the Commission tasked with investigating the creation of a UK Bill of Rights advocated withdrawal from the Convention unless the Court ceased its ‘judicially activist approach’ (p. 182).
It is possible that the European Union will soon sign up to the European Convention on Human Rights. The change would have interesting implications for European human rights law, as well as for UK citizens seeking redress for alleged human rights violations.
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It may sound odd that whilst member states are signed up to the European Convention, the European Union as a corporate body is not. But negotiations began last month (see this Council of Europe press release) on the European Union’s accession to the European Convention. The Vice-President of the EU’s Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship said “We are now putting in place the missing link in Europe’s system of fundamental rights protection, guaranteeing coherence between the approaches of the Council of Europe and the European Union”.
No more super injunctions?
Lord Neuberger, the Master of the Rolls, provided an interesting discussion on so-called “super injunctions” in a speech on 28 April 2010. He said that “Where justice is carried out in secret, away from public scrutiny, bad habits can develop. Even if they don’t develop, the impression may arise that they have done so.”
Super injunctions came to prominence as a result of the case involving footballer John Terry, who initially used the courts to block publication of details of his extra marital affair, as well as all mention of the case.
The speech will be of particular interest to libel lawyers, as Lord Neuberger is currently chairing a high-profile panel to review super-injunctions which may lead to their demise. The speech provides a useful background to the issue in terms of human rights law, as well as in relation to freedom of speech in the United States (see our recent post on the topic).
Lord Neuberger gave little away, but does strongly emphasise the importance of open justice, which the super injunction has arguably diminished. The following paragraph may worry lawyers and celebrities who hope that the super injunction will survive:
29. But what of the substantive issue? How do we reconcile such injunctions with the principle of open justice? The first thing we could say is, as Mr Justice Tugendhat, the judge in the Terry case, pointed out, where such an issue is raised it requires intense scrutiny by the court. It does so because openness is one of the means by which public confidence in the proper administration of justice is maintained. Where justice is carried out in secret, away from public scrutiny, bad habits can develop. Even if they don’t develop, the impression may arise that they have done so. Neither reality nor suspicion are an acceptable feature of any open society.
Prisoners will be unable to vote in the general election despite the European Court of Human Rights ruling almost five years ago that the blanket ban was unlawful.
The House of Lords discussed the issue in the small hours of 7 April 2010 when Lord Ramsbotham, former Chief Inspector of Prisons, tabled an amendment to the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill which would have removed the ban.
Lord Ramsbotham lamented that the Government was “frightened of offending reactionary public opinion by appearing not to be tough on criminals” and “determined to prevaricate for as long as possible, going to absurd lengths, such as suggesting that prisoners had lost the moral authority to vote.”
The Government insists that it is still considering the responses to its second stage consultation, despite it closing over six months ago.
The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights has also expressed serious concern, noting that the Government risks not only political embarrassment at the Council of Europe, but will be in breach of its international obligation to secure the full enjoyment of Convention rights for everyone within its jurisdiction.