European Court of Human Rights


Unlimited Immigration Detention and the Right to Liberty – the Round-up

24 May 2016 by

Photo credit: RT

In the news

The absence of fixed time limits in the UK system of immigration detention does not breach Article 5 of the Convention (the right to liberty), according to a recent decision of the European Court of Human Rights in JN v United Kingdom.

The applicant was an Iranian national who was refused asylum in the UK and issued with a deportation order. He was detained in an immigration removal centre for more than four and a half years, following completion of a custodial sentence for indecent assault. The applicant complained that in the absence of fixed time limits, domestic law was unclear and did not produce foreseeable consequences for individuals.

This argument was rejected by the Court, which re-iterated that Article 5 does not lay down maximum time limits for detention pending deportation. The issue was said to be whether domestic law contained sufficient procedural safeguards against arbitrariness, and in this regard the UK did not fall short of Convention requirements. However, the Court did find that between January 2008 and September 2009 deportation of the applicant had not been pursued with “due diligence”, and his detention during this period was therefore in breach of his right to liberty.

The decision will come as a disappointment to campaigners, who point out that the UK is the only EU Member State which places no time limit on the detention of foreign nationals. According to the UNHCR, detention can have “a lasting, detrimental impact on the mental and physical health of asylum seekers”, and both a cross-party Parliamentary Inquiry and a recent report of the UN Human Rights Committee have called on the UK to adopt an upper limit.

It remains open to the Government to do so. However, in light of the judgment in JN, the introduction of a statutory time limit would now appear unlikely. A spokeswoman told the Guardian that the Home Office were pleased with the outcome of the case: “We maintain that our immigration detention system is firm but fair”.

In other news

The Queen’s Speech has declared that “proposals will be brought forward for a British Bill of Rights” – wording that is near identical to last year’s commitment to ‘bring forward proposals for a British Bill of Rights”. Speaking to the Huffington Post, Policy Director at Liberty, Bella Sankey remarks that if this “felt like groundhog day, it was because little progress has been made” towards the scrapping of the Human Rights Act. UKHRB founder Adam Wagner provides a useful list of reactions and coverage here.

A report from the European Commission points to evidence that “the migration crisis has been exploited by criminal networks involved in trafficking in human beings”, who target the most vulnerable. According to official figures, in 2013-2014 there were 15,846 registered victims of trafficking in the EU, although the true number is considered to be “substantially higher”. The BBC reports on the findings.

The Supreme Court has upheld an interim injunction in the ‘celebrity threesome’ case, until after the full trial for invasion of privacy. The Court of Appeal had been wrong to enhance the weight attached to freedom of expression (article 10 ECHR) as compared with the right to respect for privacy (article 8 ECHR) – neither article had preference over the other in the balancing exercise. David Hart QC provides an analysis of the decision for the UKHRB – a summary of the main points can be found on RightsInfo

In the courts

The applicants were Hungarian nationals and members of parliament, who had been issued with fines for engaging in protests that were disruptive of parliamentary proceedings. They complained that this had violated their right to freedom of expression (article 10 ECHR).

The Court observed that Parliaments were entitled to react when their members engaged in disorderly conduct disrupting the normal functioning of the legislature. However, on the present facts domestic legislation had not provided for any possibility for the MPs concerned to be involved in the relevant disciplinary procedure. The interference with the applicants’ right to freedom of expression was therefore not proportionate to the legitimate aims pursued, because it was not accompanied by adequate procedural safeguards. Accordingly, the Court found a violation of Article 10.

The applicant’s husband had died in circumstances where there had been a negligent failure to diagnose meningitis shortly after (successful) nasal polyp surgery, although that negligent failure was not necessarily causative. In its Chamber judgment of 15 December 2015, the European Court of Human Rights held that there had been a violation of Article 2 (right to life) of the Convention as to the right to life and, unanimously, that there had been a violation of Article 2.

Analysis of that decision is provided by Jeremy Hyam QC for the UK HRB. On 2 May 2016 the Grand Chamber Panel accepted the Portuguese Government’s request that the case be referred to the Grand Chamber.

Publications

Those in need of some summer reading might consider: Five Ideas to Fight For, by Anthony Lester, recently published. The book describes the development of English law in relation to human rights, equality, free speech, privacy and the rule of law, explaining how our freedom is under threat and why it matters.

UK HRB posts

CA says ex-pats cannot say yes or no to Brexit – David Hart QC

The British Bill of Rights Show: Series 14, Episode 9…*Zzzzzzz* – Adam Wagner

Three Way in the Supreme Court: PJS remains PJS – David Hart QC

The National Preventive Mechanism of the United Kingdom – John Wadham

Bank Mellat’s $4bn claim: CA rules out one element, but the rest to play for – David Hart QC

Hannah Lynes

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon reinforces Scottish opposition to repeal of the Human Rights Act

24 September 2015 by

Nicola-SturgeonYesterday morning, in a speech to civic organisations in Glasgow, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon warned that “no responsible government” would consider repeal of the Human Rights Act 1998 due to the numerous negative consequences, both in the domestic and international sphere, that would result from such a move – (see a transcript of the speech here).

by Fraser Simpson

Proposals for Repeal of the Human Rights Act

It has been a longstanding Tory policy to repeal the Human Rights Act and replace it with a British Bill of Rights. Such a policy is motivated by discontent over a handful of decisions from the European Court of Human Rights (“ECtHR”) that have allegedly “undermine[d] the role of UK courts in deciding on human rights issues”. In October 2014, the then Justice Secretary Chris Grayling announced Tory proposals to treat Strasbourg judgments as “advisory” – irrespective of the potential incoherence between treating judgments in such a way and the UK’s obligations under Article 46, ECHR (see John Wadham’s post here). However, the 2015 Tory manifesto included less specific promises to “scrap the Human Rights Act” in order to “break the formal link between British courts and the European Court of Human Rights”. Little substantive information has been provided on the development of these plans, apart from an intention, included in the Queen’s speech, to conduct consultations and publish proposals this autumn.
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‘Killer Robots’ and ‘Conversion Therapies’ – The Human Rights Round-up

14 April 2015 by

A scene from the 2003 film Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines

This week’s Round-up is brought to you by Alex Wessely.

In the news:
Military chiefs have criticised the influence of Human Rights law in a report published this week, arguing that the “need to arrest and detain enemy combatants in a conflict zone should not be expected to comply with peace-time standards”. This follows a series of cases over the years which found the Ministry of Defence liable for human rights violations abroad, culminating in allegations of unlawful killing in the Al-Sweady Inquiry that were judged “wholly without foundation” in December.

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Radical but risky changes afoot at the European Court of Human Rights – Andrew Tickell

9 July 2013 by

Strasbourg_ECHR-300x297

Brought to you by Andrew Tickell

Radical changes are afoot in Strasbourg. Protocol No. 15, whose outlines were agreed at the Brighton Conference of 2012, is primed for ratification, while at the start of 2014, new Rules of Court will come into effect.  Both have the potential to have a wide-ranging impact on applicants.  Protocol 15 rewrites the Convention’s preamble, emphasising the Court’s “subsidiary” role in the protection of human rights.

It also modifies two of the admissibility criteria for petitions, pairing back the safeguard clauses initially erected around Protocol 14’s new criteria of “no significant disadvantage” and trimming the time available for applicants to lodge their cases from six months to four.


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Context is everything – European Court of Human Rights struck out 99% of UK cases in 2012

24 January 2013 by

UK stats 2012

The European Court of Human Rights got off lightly in the Prime Minister’s In-Out speech yesterday, with just a single passing mention. No surprises there, as the speech was about the European Union, a separate organisation from the Council of Europe, which runs the Strasbourg court. Withdrawing from the European Union would not mean withdrawing from the European Court of Human Rights.

Yesterday was, however, an exception. Ordinarily, the European Court of Human Rights is a large presence in the in-out Europe debate. And, from the amount of coverage and political argument the court generates, you might be forgiven for thinking it rules against the UK hundreds of times per year. The Court has just released its statistics for 2012, and the figures may surprise you.

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A Moral Assessment of the European Court of Human Rights

9 January 2013 by

Strasbourg_ECHR-300x297This 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. 
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UK’s relationship with the Council of Europe soon to reach a turning point – Joshua Rozenberg

7 November 2012 by

In a couple of weeks’ time, the government’s relationship with the Council of Europe will reach something of a turning point.

If the UK is going to comply with its international treaty obligations, ministers will have to “bring forward legislative proposals” by 22 November that will end what the European court of human rights calls the “general, automatic and indiscriminate disenfranchisement of all serving prisoners”.

That’s all the government has to do. There’s no need to give all or even most prisoners the vote. Parliament doesn’t even have to approve the proposals, although its failure to do so would lead to further challenges in due course.

But the prime minister painted himself into a corner last month. It’s true he offered to have “another vote in parliament on another resolution”. But a resolution is not the same as a bill. And David Cameron said, in terms: “Prisoners are not getting the vote under this government.”

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Failure to stop disability harassment is inhuman treatment, rules Strasbourg

26 September 2012 by

Attitudes changing, slowly

DORDEVIC v. CROATIA – 41526/10 – HEJUD [2012] ECHR 1640 – read judgment

The European Court of Human Rights has declared in Đorđević v Croatia that the failure of the Croatian State to prevent the persistent harassment of a severely disabled young man was a breach of his Article 3 ECHR right not to be subjected to torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

It also amounted to a breach of his mother’s Article 8 ECHR right to respect for her family and private life.  The applicants had no effective remedy in the domestic courts in breach of Article 13 ECHR.

This is an important judgment on the protection from harassment that the State must ensure for disabled people and their families.


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A bluffer’s guide to human rights courts

10 September 2012 by

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.

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Courts should take note of Strasboug’s doctrine of deference

6 July 2012 by

R(on the application of S and KF) v Secretary of State for Justice [2012] EWHC 1810 (Admin)- read judgment

This case about prisoner’s pay provides an interesting up to date analysis of the role of the doctrine of “margin of appreciation” and its applicability in domestic courts.

Margin of appreciation is a doctrine of an international court: it recognises a certain distance of judgment between the Strasbourg court’s overall apprehension of the Convention principles and their application in practice by the national authorities. In theory it has no application in domestic disputes but ever since the Human Rights Act introduced Convention rights into domestic law there has been an ongoing debate about its applicability at a local level. This case demonstrates the importance of its role in the assessment, by the courts, of the compatibility of laws and rules with Convention rights.


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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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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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