What has European Convention on Human Rights ever done for us?

Posted by The Skibbereen Eagle | April 26, 2016 1

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Following Theresa May’s illiterate/deeply disingenuous intervention in the EU referendum debate, calling for Britain to stay in the EU but leave the European Court of Human Rights, it’s heartening to see this satirical video from Patrick Stewart, Adrian Scarborough and Sarah Solemani who expose the problems in the Conservative plan for a UK bill of rights.

What has the ECHR ever done for us? Apart from improving human rights in a way most of us take for granted, and building on Magna Carta, the 1689 Bill of Rights, everything Thomas Jefferson wrote and that the UN stands for – probably nothing much.Sir-Winston-Churchill-gives-his-familiar-V-sign-after-a-lunchtime-meeting-with-the-American-Secretary-of-State-John

With all the vitriol, ridicule and scorn it attracts, it’s easy to forget the Human Rights Act is a force for good. Although the law only came into force in 2000, it incorporates the post-war European Convention On Human Rights, inspired by Sir Winston Churchill.

Civil liberties champion Michael Mansfield QC says: “If the Human Rights Act were scrapped people would soon realise how our daily lives benefit whether it’s in health, people in care, child abuse and so many other issues.”

But with the amount of flak it’s facing, it’s time to ape the classic “Romans” scene in the Monty Python’s Life of Brian and answer the question: What has the Human Rights Act ever done for us?echrteresamayechrcalm

The 1998 Human Rights Act (HRA) required UK courts to act in ways that were compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Expensive and often-lengthy court proceedings in Strasbourg were no longer always necessary.

The Act has been used to hold the police to account for failing to investigate rape and human trafficking, it triggered the change in the law that prevented rape victims from being cross-examined by their attacker, and it helped to establish the right to an independent investigation for deaths in prison.

Key case: In 2008, the Grand Chamber in Strasbourg heard the case of “S and Marper vs UK”. For four years, anyone arrested in England, Wales or Northern Ireland had a DNA sample taken and held in the National DNA Database. Even if charges were dropped or discontinued, the record remained. The court ruled that indiscriminate retention of fingerprints and DNA failed to balance public and private interests. It said there was “disproportionate interference” with the right to respect for private life and was unnecessary in a democratic society.

The Human Rights Act is increasingly used to fight cases where local authorities unfairly separate families. The London Irish Women’s Centre helped a woman who constantly moved to avoid a violent husband. When she arrived in the capital social services claimed she was an unfit mother who had intentionally made the family homeless. Using Article 8 of the Act, respecting family life, she was able to fight an attempt to have her children taken into foster care.ECHR CHART 2

It took 10 years, but campaigners prevented from joining a protest against the Iraq War in 2003 were told by a judge they’d had their rights violated by Gloucestershire Police. They were heading for RAF Fairford on board coaches which were stopped and sent back to London under heavy police escort, even forbidden to stop to answer calls of nature. In February last year at Central London County Court Judge David Mitchell said the protesters had their rights to freedom of expression and of peaceful assembly under the Human Rights Act breached.

In Ireland not only is the Good Friday agreement underpinned by the ECHR but it has inspired progressive change. In 1992 one principled campaigner Ruth Riddick successfully sued the Government of Ireland on the right to (abortion) information through Open Door Counselling. The ruling required immediate Irish constitutional reform guaranteeing this right to women.ECHR-HRA-1998ECHR_Thumb-1447337412

When the ECHR came into force in 1953 few could have imagined that it would end up providing rights protection and an international human rights court for hundreds of millions of people across more than forty states from the west coast of Ireland to the east coast of the Russian Federation. Nor could people have imagined the kind of cases—and the volume of cases—that the European Court of Human Rights would find itself dealing with: slavery, religious expression and dress, interception of communications, LGBT rights, protection of the home, privacy, and torture continue to be issues that the Court is required to deal with time and time again even today.

However everybody in Europe should remember why the convention is there. After the horrors of the Nazi Regime were laid bare after World War II and the Nuremburg Trials there was a determination among European leaders that never again would the citizen be left at the mercy of a state where hospitals become places where disabled people are killed, Courts become places where justice is denied and security forces wage campaigns of terror against their own citizens.

The Skibbereen Eagle

In 1898, to widespread bemusement, a small Provincial Newspaper in an equally small town in the South West corner of Ireland sonorously warned the Czar of Russia that it knew what he was up to and he should be careful how he proceeded for “The Skibbereen Eagle” was wise to his game and in future would be keeping its eye on him! It is doubtful that Nicholas II, Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias, even noticed the Eagle’s admonitions but as history soon proved he should have paid closer attention to the Eagle’s insightful opinions!

Today, powered by its readers and contributors, from its cyber eyries in Ireland and the centres of the Irish Diaspora The Eagle casts its Cold Eye on Life and Death and much in between.
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