Should the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) be reduced to an advisory body? As well as renegotiating Britain’s relationship with the European Union, the governing Conservative Party would also like to change the UK’s relationship with the Strasbourg-based court, threatening to withdraw British membership of the ECHR unless rulings are made non-binding in future.
Three high-profile ECHR judgements have drawn particular criticism in the UK. Firstly, the court has ruled that prisoners should not be denied the vote; secondly, that life imprisonment should always include the possibility of review and parole, and thirdly that the deportation of terrorist suspect Abu Qatada to face trial in Jordan could not happen because evidence obtained by torture might be used against him.
Critics believe that the court has too much power and infringes upon the sovereignty of its members. However, supporters argue that if the UK pulls out it will place it in breach of its international obligations (EU Member States must also be signatories of the ECHR, and the European Commission has threatened to suspend British voting rights in the EU if it pulls out). They also argue it will send a message to the world that Britain doesn’t care about human rights violations.
Out of 1,652 cases concerning the UK last year, in only eight cases did the court rule that there had been at least one violation of human rights. In other words, the UK wins the overwhelming majority of cases taken against it, losing only 0.4% of cases.
Between 1959 and 2013, the ECHR has passed a total of 499 judgements onto the UK. By comparison, Turkey has had almost 3,000 judgements made against it, and the Russian Federation almost 1,500. If Britain leaves the ECHR, would more countries follow? In Russia, the Chairman of the Constitutional Court, Valery Zorkin, has also said he supports a mechanism to make ECHR judgements non-binding on his country.
Should human rights rulings by the ECHR be legally binding? Does the Strasbourg-based court have too much power? And what kind of message would British withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights send? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policy-makers and experts for their reactions.