Tuesday 24 April 2012

Academic Report on UK and ECHR

Finally, a thorough academic perspective in the British debate on the ECHR has been published. A new Equality and Human Rights Commission research report (no. 83) was written by a team of three researchers of London Metropolitan University: Alice Donald, Jane Gordon, and Philip Leach. It is entitled 'The UK and the European Court of Human Rights'. These are some key points from the report according to the authors:

  • The UK has a very low rate of defeat at Strasbourg. Of some 12,000 applications lodged against the UK between 1999 and 2010, only 215 (less than 2 per cent) resulted in a judgment finding a violation of a European Convention right. Put another way, the UK ‘lost’ only one in 50 cases. If adjustment is made for the effect of repetitive cases (where the violation has the same root cause and therefore multiple judgments are counted as a single judgment), the rate of defeat falls to 1 in 70.
  • The research does not support the proposition that the ECtHR risks becoming a ‘small claims court’. Judgments against the UK have frequently been serious and substantive in nature. Almost one in 12 of all judgments against the UK concerned either the right to life or the prohibition of torture. Around one third concerned the right to a fair trial.
  • Many Strasbourg judgments have had a far-reaching impact on the rights and freedoms of individuals in the UK and elsewhere in Europe. Notable among these are cases relating to torture and those concerned with protection of life and procedural obligations for the investigation of deaths.
  • The ECtHR has been accused of interfering with domestic laws and practices in order to impose uniform standards and laws on member states. However, the Court's case law clearly recognises that customs, policies and practices vary between states and that the ECtHR will not attempt to impose uniformity or detailed and specific requirements on domestic authorities.
  • Since the coming into force of the Human Rights Act 1998, the ECtHR has been respectful of UK court decisions because of the high quality of their judgments. On the rare occasions that the UK courts have disagreed with ECtHR case law, the Strasbourg Court has shown itself willing to engage in ‘judicial dialogue’ with the superior courts of the UK.
  • For the most part, the UK has an exemplary record in implementing judgments of the ECtHR through changes to the law or the way that the law is applied. This view of the UK’s positive record is shared within the Council of Europe, where the UK is described as leading by example on the question of implementation.
  • The notable recent exception is the UK’s prolonged resistance to implementing the judgment in Hirst v UK on prisoner voting rights. Interviewees for our research expressed concern that the UK’s stance on this case - and the accompanying negative rhetoric about the ECtHR - may result in a wider refusal to implement ECtHR judgments across the Council of Europe and a weakening of the rule of law.