Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)
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Commission publishes research on European Court of Human Rights judgments relating to UK government

Research released by the Commission at this week’s Brighton conference on the European Court of Human Rights, shows that just a tiny minority of rulings by the Strasbourg Court are against the UK government.

The research shows that of the nearly 12,000 applications brought against the UK between 1999 and 2010, the vast majority fell at the first hurdle. Only three per cent (390 applications) were declared admissible. An even smaller proportion of applications - 1.8 per cent (215) - eventually resulted in a judgment finding a violation. The latest figures for 2011 show a rate of defeat of just 0.5 per cent, or one in 200.

The research also shows that, in a similar situation to the Human Rights Act, where the UK parliament has sovereignty over its implementation, UK courts have the flexibility to interpret the European Convention on Human Rights in a manner different to that of the Strasbourg court. A ‘margin of appreciation’ recognises that national authorities are in the main best placed to decide how human rights should be applied.

While judgments against the UK have been relatively few in number, a significant proportion involved basic civil liberties such as the right to a fair trial; around eight per cent of judgments related to the right to life and the prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment.

Other important rulings have led to better protection against unnecessary intrusion into privacy through the use of secret surveillance; legislation outlawing forced labour and servitude; equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people and protecting the freedom of the UK media, including the protection of journalists' sources and the importance of investigative journalism, as in the exposure by the Sunday Times of the thalidomide case.

The Commission, which is Britain’s National Human Rights Institution (NHRI), welcomed the Declaration issued by government representatives gathered in Brighton. In particular, the Commission welcomed their acknowledgement of the Court’s extraordinary contribution to the protection of human rights in Europe; the right of individuals to take their cases to the Court as the cornerstone of the system; the UK government’s acknowledgement that it can prevent breaches of the Convention and reduce the workload of the Court by ensuring respect for human rights at home; and the reaffirmation of the important role of NHRI’s like the Equality and Human Rights Commission in protecting human rights.

The Commission also welcomed the news that the backlog of cases which has built up will be dealt with over the next few years and moves to improve selection processes so that only the best individuals become judges.

John Wadham, General Counsel, Equality and Human Rights Commission said:

'This month’s judgment on the Abu Hamza case highlights that, contrary to popular belief, the vast majority of rulings by European Court of Human Rights are in Britain’s favour, rather than against it.'

'Research prepared for the Commission ahead of this week’s Brighton conference on the European Court, shows that 98 per cent of rulings are in Britain’s favour rather than against. And even then, our governments and courts have the flexibility to interpret rulings rather than automatically be bound by them.'

'Britain has a strong record in supporting and upholding the rights contained in the European Convention and we can be proud of our leadership in this area. As the UK’s National Human Rights Institution, the Commission supports the recommendations made by our fellow European National Human Rights Institutions to increase the effectiveness of the European Court of Human Rights and for the UK government to affirm its commitment to protecting the rights in the European Convention.'

For more press information, contact the Commission’s media office on 020 3117 0255, out of hours 07767 272 818. For general enquiries please contact the Commission’s national helpline: England 0845 604 6610, Scotland 0845 604 5510 or Wales 0845 604 8810.

Notes to editors

The Commission is a statutory body established under the Equality Act 2006. It took over the responsibilities of Commission for Racial Equality, Disability Rights Commission and Equal Opportunities Commission. It aims to reduce inequality, eliminate discrimination, strengthen good relations between people, and promote and protect human rights. The Commission enforces equality legislation on age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation, and encourages compliance with the Human Rights Act. It also gives advice and guidance to businesses, the voluntary and public sectors, and to individuals.
 

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