Survival? the European Court of Human Rights and the “Brexit”

The debate over the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union (EU) has also seen renewed calls for the UK to leave the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

The ECHR – ratification of which was a precondition for joining the European Union – has ruled on a variety of human rights issues across the EU – including the lawful use of force, deportation of refugees, privacy and terrorism.

Home Secretary Theresa May said in a speech that, “The ECHR can bind the hands of parliament, adds nothing to our prosperity, makes us less secure by preventing the deportation of dangerous foreign nationals – and does nothing to change the attitudes of governments…”

“So regardless of the EU referendum, my view is this: if we want to reform human rights laws in this country, it isn’t the EU we should leave but the ECHR and the jurisdiction of its court,” she said.


Calls to leave the ECHR in Great Britain are nothing new. The Conservative party’s 2015 manifesto committed it to a diminished role for the ECHR. United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron refused to rule it out in a speech in parliament in June 2015.

The United Kingdom has come under criticism for a lack of willingness to  implement the judgments of the European Court. In 2013, the Council of Europe Commissioner noted that the actions of the United Kingdom could encourage other states to forgo their obligations.

In her speech, May distanced herself from calls to leave the European Union. In response, former conservative shadow minister David Davis said that it was “extraordinarily inconsistent” to want to stay within the EU and leave the ECHR.

“She seems not to have understood the power and forcefulness of the European Court of Justice. If we pulled out of the ECHR, for which we would get much opprobrium, and stay in the EU, all that would happen is the European court of justice will do exactly what the ECHR did before but with more force, because the charter of fundamental rights is the European convention plus, not minus. Logically, it does not stand up.”

The United Kingdom – by leaving the ECHR – could also signal that it no longer respect human rights, being a requisite for membership of the European Union.

May’s comments will have given comfort to countries like Russia, who in 2015 signed a law that gave the Russian courts the power to overrule judgments of the ECHR.



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