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European Court of Human Rights

Volume 824: debated on Monday 5 September 2022


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the effectiveness of the work of the European Court of Human Rights.

My Lords, successive Governments have long expressed concerns about the effectiveness of the Court of Human Rights and its ability to manage a significant case load, but we welcome the important and ongoing efforts made since the entry into force of protocol 14 to the convention in 2010 and the further reforms which followed the Interlaken declaration and the UK-led Brighton conference. These have helped to ensure that the court focuses on the highest priority cases before it.

I can understand why the Minister is in a bit of limbo at the moment, given what is happening beyond this Chamber, but I remind him that on three occasions at that Dispatch Box he said not only that will we remain a member of the European Court of Human Rights but that we will continue to play a leading role, yet outside this Chamber, when he was making those statements, Liz Truss and Suella Braverman, who are going to have quite an influence over the next few months, said they wanted to withdraw. So what is the Government’s position now in relation to the European Convention on Human Rights? Will the noble and learned Lord have courage, particularly following the excellent report of the Law Society today, and reaffirm our position that we will remain in the European Convention on Human Rights?

While I am on my feet—in view of the political situation, I fully understand why noble Lords want to have a little bit of amusement at my expense—I take this opportunity to thank and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, who has posed this Question, for his work at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. That Assembly plays a very important role in the convention, and the UK plays a very important part in the Assembly. I particularly commend the noble Lord for his work on sport and human rights and his recent report looking at the protection of underage players against risks of abuse and other matters. I thank the noble Lord for his Question.

Will the Minister confirm that the Government intend to use the Bill introduced in the other House to limit the ability of citizens to use the convention on human rights to safeguard their position against an over-mighty state? Does that not sit very oddly with the victor of the Conservative Party leadership contest quite often asserting her dislike of an over-mighty state? Is this not one of the main protections against it?

It is a protection and will remain a protection. The rights in the convention will continue to be respected and enforced by the courts of the United Kingdom as before.

Does the Minister agree that, if we were to withdraw from the convention, we would have to withdraw from the Council of Europe and global Britain would be even less global?

I am afraid your Lordship’s question does not arise, since we are not withdrawing from the convention or indeed from the Council of Europe.

My Lords, the Brighton declaration, which was agreed by all state parties to the convention in 2012 under the UK chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, was a clear demonstration of our leadership of that organisation. That declaration set out plans to both reform the convention and improve the effectiveness of the Strasbourg court. Is my noble and learned friend the Minister able to update us as to how the Government are building on that legacy?

We remain a leading force for human rights in the Council of Europe; I will give two examples in response to my noble friend’s question. We are supporting the development of a binding convention to protect the profession of lawyer and the right to practise the profession without prejudice or restraint, and we advocated among other member states for greater awareness of the convention rights among all state parties. This led to a new recommendation in September 2021 on the dissemination of the convention and other relevant texts. In addition, we will shortly participate in the Council of Europe’s Steering Committee for Human Rights, which will start a review of the system for the selection and election of judges to that court.

My Lords, on 14 July in response to the Human Rights Act debate tabled by my noble friend Lady Whitaker, the Minister said he had plans to visit each of the devolved legislatures shortly to narrow the differences between the UK Government and those legislatures. Has he had those meetings, and how did they go in terms of narrowing the differences?

My Lords, the position is that those meetings have not yet taken place. It proved quite difficult to arrange them in the Recess and in the light of the impending change of government. I am due to see the Welsh Government on the 19th of this month, and provisional dates for Scotland and Northern Ireland have been arranged for before the end of September.

Can my noble and learned friend confirm that, when Her Majesty’s Government have knowledge of a case that is relevant, any evidence that Her Majesty’s Government have is automatically offered, rather than partially offered or perhaps sometimes no evidence offered at all?

I am seeking clarification that Her Majesty’s Government, when they know there is a case that is relevant to a citizen or party in the UK, automatically bring forth any evidence that Her Majesty’s Government have.

I think the answer to that question is in the affirmative. The UK Government follow carefully any case that concerns UK citizens under the convention.

Does the Minister, as a jurist of some distinction, agree that dialogue between domestic courts and international ones is incredibly important, and that is what is enshrined in the Human Rights Act?

My Lords, is this not the time for people to come together instead of separating from each other, especially when we see what is happening in Ukraine and so on? This is our opportunity to unite people, not divide them. I hope the new Cabinet and the new Prime Minister will bear that in mind.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the Strasbourg court in Al-Skeini v United Kingdom made a fundamental and damaging error and acted inconsistently with the Vienna convention in holding that the procedural duty under Article 2 of the convention has extraterritorial effect? Has that not damaged the court’s standing in this country and abroad?

My Lords, I think it is fair to say that the Al-Skeini judgment has raised various problems, and part of the Bill that will shortly be before your Lordships is intended to deal with the question of the extraterritorial ambit of the convention.

My Lords, on the day of the publication of the Bill of Rights Bill, the Minister, writing for ConservativeHome, described it as a “modern framework” for human rights. In Clause 24(3), the Bill instructs judges not to have regard to any interim measure issued by the European Court of Human Rights. Would the Minister like to explain to President Zelensky how that is consistent with a modern framework when, in the case of Ukraine v Russia, he successfully gained an interim measure against Russia in the European Court of Human Rights to constrain it from using military force against civilians?

The position of interim measures under the convention, and in the jurisprudence of the European Court and its rules of procedure, is a matter of great delicacy that at the moment is in effect being scrutinised in the Rwanda proceedings currently before the High Court in this country. I think it inappropriate to go further, but the provision in the Bill to which the noble Lord has referred is, in the Government’s view, entirely in accordance with the convention.