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Home Human Rights Archive for category "European Convention on Human Rights"

Snippets on the UK and the ECHR

Published on May 18, 2016        Author: 

Some brief notices on the UK, the ECHR, the planned repeal of the UK’s Human Rights Act and its replacement with a British Bill of Rights that our non-UK readers in particular might find of interest: almost all is quiet on the Western front, but not quite. From today’s Queen’s Speech in Parliament we could only learn that the Government still plans to scrap the HRA and replace with the British Bill of Rights, but we still have no inkling about what exactly that would entail and when. Basically the whole matter is on hold at least while Britain ponders Brexit, and even then it is likely that the new Bill (after extensive consultations) will not make radical changes to the existing HRA framework, other than for appearances’ sake.

Cambridge’s Mark Elliott has more, as does Rightsinfo. Also at Rightsinfo, Adam Wagner and Rebecca Hacker have an excellent post with a bit of colourful statistics showing just how gentle Strasbourg has been to the UK in recent years – which demonstrates not only how much damage the UK has inflicted on the ECHR system over very little real-world intrusion in its affairs, i.e. mostly for petty domestic politics, but perhaps also how (regrettably? consciously?) responsive Strasbourg can be to some state-administered spanking.

Finally, readers might be interested in a new website/blog launched by the estimable Conor Gearty of the LSE, who has a forthcoming book with OUP on the relationship between Britain and Strasbourg, On Fantasy Island. Conor will blog with excerpts from the book, working his way through its main themes: the fantasies, the facts, and the future.

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UK Investigatory Powers Tribunal Rules that Non-UK Residents Have No Right to Privacy under the ECHR

Published on May 18, 2016        Author: 

In another major development on the surveillance/privacy front, on Tuesday the UK specialized surveillance court, the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, ruled that persons not present within the United Kingdom are not within the jurisdiction of the UK in the sense of Article 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and accordingly do not have any of the rights under that Convention (para. 49 et seq). In other words, a person in say France or the United States subjected to surveillance by GCHQ does not have an ECHR right to privacy vis-a-vis the UK, which accordingly has no Convention claim to answer. This is I think the first time that a British court has expressly dealt with extraterritoriality in the surveillance context. The IPT’s reasoning essentially rests on a Bankovic analogy – if you are in say Serbia and the UK drops a bomb on you, the Strasbourg Court has said that you don’t have the right to life. How could you then have the right to privacy if all the UK did was to simply read your email while you were in Serbia?

I have extensively argued elsewhere why that analogy is wrong (as is Bankovic itself), so I won’t belabour that point further (see here and here). It was entirely predictable that the IPT would adopt this restrictive position, which is perfectly plausible under Strasbourg case law (even if fundamentally mistaken). The IPT was correct in ruling, however, that distinctions as to the Convention’s applicability can’t really be made on the basis of whether the person is present is some other Council of Europe state, or is outside the ECHR’s espace juridique altogether. Anyway, the issue of the Convention’s extraterritorial applicability to mass electronic surveillance abroad is one for Strasbourg to decide and (hopefully) fix, and it will have the opportunity to do so in these cases and others. What the Court will do is of course anyone’s guess, because its decision will inevitable have ripple effects on other scenarios, such as extraterritorial uses of lethal force, e.g. drone strikes.

I have also argued, however, that there is particular scenario in which the applicability of the Convention becomes more attractive (or less dangerous as a matter of policy) – when the surveillance actually takes place within the surveilling state’s territory, even if the affected individual is outside it. Imagine, for example, if the UK police searched my flat in Nottingham while I was visiting family in Serbia – surely I would have Article 8 rights, even though I would not be on UK territory when the search took place. Why then should I not have these rights if an email I send while I am in Serbia is routed through my university server in Nottingham and intercepted by GCHQ there? In both cases the intrusion into privacy happens on the UK’s territory, even if I am outside it. In fact, in its judgment the IPT briefly addresses this scenario, if all too briefly and less than convincingly, although I’m not sure that the point was extensively argued.

In any case, the main paragraphs on the jurisdiction issue are below the fold. The judgment also deals with the very important question of standing/victim status, finding that all but six of the 600+ claimants lacked locus standi even under a very low threshold of showing that they are ‘potentially at risk’ from surveillance measures (applying the European Court’s recent Zakharov judgment, para. 171).

Read the rest of this entry…

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Silencing the Canary: the lawfulness of the U.K. Investigatory Powers Bill’s secrecy provisions under the ECHR

Published on May 17, 2016        Author: 

Following the Snowden revelations in 2013 concerning the complicity of the tech industry in widespread electronic government surveillance in the U.S., tech companies have individually and collectively become increasingly active as advocates of privacy and free speech rights, culminating in legal challenges to government electronic surveillance.

Since the dropping by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) of its much publicised writ against Apple, which sought to compel Apple to hack the security key code system of the Apple iPhone 5, the battle between tech companies and the DOJ over privacy and encryption in the U.S. has taken another turn.  In April, Microsoft filed a suit in the District Court of Seattle against the DOJ challenging the ‘secrecy order’ provisions (a range of anti-tipping off and gagging powers) under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA).

With the Investigatory Powers Bill (IPB), which contains similar secrecy requirements, currently being debated before the U.K. Parliament, the U.S. case provides fair warning of possible human rights challenges tech companies may bring against the U.K. government. This post will consider the implications of the Bill’s secrecy provisions in light of the rights of tech companies under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

The Microsoft – DOJ claim                                                 

In short, the ECPA allows a U.S. government agency to apply to the Court for a warrant requiring Microsoft, or any other internet company, to hand over their customers’ private data. In addition, an order can be made by the court preventing the company from publicising the fact that they have been required to disclose the data. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Russian Constitutional Court and its Actual Control over the ECtHR Judgement in Anchugov and Gladkov

Published on April 26, 2016        Author: 

The amendment to the law on the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation which came into force on 14 December 2015 gave the Constitutional Court the power to declare “impossible to implement” judgements of a human rights body on the ground that its interpretation of the international treaty provisions at the basis of the judgement is inconsistent with the Constitution of the Russian Federation. As observed by Philip Leach and Alice Donald, even if the main objective of the law was to target judgements of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), its scope is wider and covers decisions from any human rights body, including the UN Human Rights Committee. No equivalent powers exist under the national jurisdiction of any other Council of Europe (CoE) member state.

Russia’s Constitutional Court has recently ruled that it was “impossible to implement” the final judgement of the ECtHR delivered on 4 July 2013 in the case of Anchugov and Gladkov v. Russia. In this case, the ECtHR held that Russia’s blanket ban on convicted prisoners’ voting rights was incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The applicants brought the case because, according to Article 32(3) of the Russian Constitution, they were ineligible to vote in parliamentary and presidential elections given their status as convicted prisoners.

This post discusses and criticises the ‘freshly exercised’ competence of the Russian Constitutional Court, in particular, from the standpoint of public international law. Read the rest of this entry…

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ECtHR Armani Da Silva v UK: Unreasonable Police Killings in Putative Self-defence?

Published on April 14, 2016        Author: 

Two weeks after the London public transport bombings of 7 July 2005, British law enforcement mistook the Brazilian electrician Jean Charles de Menezes for another suicide bomber. As he entered a subway carriage, specialist firearms officers killed him with a series of head shots in the mistaken belief that he was about to set off a bomb. The government’s Independent Police Complaints Commission determined that de Menezes was killed due to “very serious mistakes” that were avoidable. The London Metropolitan Police was prosecuted under the Health and Safety Act 1974 and convicted to pay a GBP 175,000 fine. Compensation claims by the family were settled through an ex gratia payment.

However, de Menezes’ family still brought the case to the European Court of Human Rights since none of the individual officers implicated in the killing were prosecuted. In Armani da Silva v. United Kingdom, the Court’s Grand Chamber has just held that the United Kingdom did not fail to uphold its procedural obligation under the right to life (Art. 2 ECHR) to effectively investigate the de Menezes shooting and prosecute the individual officers involved.

One of the central legal points of the judgment concerns the standards that human rights law establishes for handling killings in putative self-defence, where an attack exists only according to the mistaken belief of the law enforcement officer using force against the presumed attacker. Arguably, the Armani da Silva judgment got the standards wrong. Read the rest of this entry…

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Principle or pragmatism? The Supreme Court’s judgment in Keyu and others v Secretary of State for Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs

Published on December 24, 2015        Author: 

On 25 November, the Supreme Court held in Keyu and Others v Secretary of State for Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs [2015] UKSC 69 that the Foreign & Commonwealth Office was not under a duty, under Article 2 ECHR or domestic law, to hold an inquiry into the circumstances in which 24 unarmed rubber plantation workers were shot dead by British soldiers in 1948 during the emergency in Malaya. The issue in question, of when a state is under a duty to investigate historical events under Article 2 or 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), is increasingly relevant in a myriad of contexts today, including the holding of fresh inquests where new evidence has emerged (see the High Court of Northern Ireland’s recent judgment in Finucane’s (Geraldine) Application), accountability for death and mistreatment in the British colonies (see the Mau Mau litigation) and the prosecution of sexual offences carried out years ago. So what does Keyu add to this developing area?

The claim was brought under several grounds, and the judgment contains interesting dicta on a number of issues, including whether the Wednesbury ‘reasonableness test’ should be replaced by a proportionality test (on which there has been commentary elsewhere, see here), and the extent to which UK human rights jurisprudence should ‘mirror’ that of the ECtHR with regard to temporal jurisdiction. But the main argument in the case, and the focus of this post, is the claim brought under Article 2 ECHR. On this the Court was unanimous, albeit for different reasons.

The ECtHR’s criteria on temporal jurisdiction

In examining the Article 2 claim, the Supreme Court had to apply the complex and unique rules created by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) to circumscribe the limits of its temporal jurisdiction in relation to deaths that took place before the state concerned became a party to the ECHR. The ECtHR has held that while it will not have jurisdiction ratione temporis over the substantive interference of Article 2 involved in such deaths by virtue of the non-retroactivity principle, the procedural obligation to conduct an effective investigation into the deaths is detachable from the substantive interference for the purposes of its jurisdiction ratione temporis (Silih v Slovenia). Read the rest of this entry…

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The role of legitimacy and proportionality in the (supposedly absolute) prohibition on inhuman and degrading treatment: the United Kingdom’s High Court decisions in DD v Secretary of State

Published on December 22, 2015        Author: 

In the United Kingdom High Court (Administrative) decision of DD v Secretary of State for Home Department [2014] (‘DD’) Ouseley J was required to consider, on a preliminary basis, whether the imposition of a Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measure (‘TPIM’) (the successor of control orders) had violated the appellant’s right to freedom from inhuman or degrading treatment under article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (‘ECHR’). The decision, and the subsequent appeal decision of Collins J (DD v Secretary of State for Home Department [2015] (‘DD (No 2)’), is significant for what it says about the role of the legitimacy and proportionality of measures when considering whether they are inhuman or degrading. More specifically, the first instance decision of Ouseley J appears to impermissibly balance ill-treatment against national security interests. In addition to this ostensible and impermissible conflation, both decisions rely on the European Court of Human Rights (‘ECtHR’) jurisprudence to support various findings without properly engaging with the very significant differences between such decisions and the facts of the instant case (especially the difference between detention following conviction and the imposing of TPIMs on individuals based on various degrees of ‘belief’ held by the Secretary of State). Similarly, neither decision considers the potential impact of the principle, regularly restated by the ECtHR, that the alleged conduct of an individual is irrelevant to a consideration of whether article 3 has been violated.

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Russia Defies Strasbourg: Is Contagion Spreading?

Published on December 19, 2015        Author: 

These are undoubtedly troubled times for the European human rights system. We have written previously about the risks that the toxic anti-Strasbourg rhetoric from certain quarters in the UK (frequently, but not exclusively, focused on the question of prisoner voting rights) might have contagious consequences further afield. In his memorandum to the Joint Committee on the Draft Voting Eligibility (Prisoners) Bill in October 2013, Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Nils Muižnieks issued an ominous warning that continued non-compliance with the Hirst and Greens judgments:

‘…would have far-reaching deleterious consequences; it would send a strong signal to other member states, some of which would probably follow the UK’s lead and also claim that compliance with certain judgments is not possible, necessary or expedient. That would probably be the beginning of the end of the ECHR system’.

Ed Bates has recently linked the UK Government’s inaction with the failure to implement cases such as Ilgar Mammadov v Azerbaijan, which concerned the politically-motivated prosecution of an opposition politician, as a result of which the Committee of Ministers has called for his release: ‘It seems hard to resist the conclusion that the continued failure to implement Hirst…saps the Convention’s authority…’

Minister for Human Rights Dominic Raab was unrepentant, arguing that it was a ‘matter of democratic principle’ to maintain the ban on prisoner voting ‘for the foreseeable future’. The next examination of the case by the Committee of Ministers may now be up to a year away.

The uncertainty over the UK’s position vis-à-vis the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) will linger into the new year, because of the further delays in the publication of the government’s proposals for a ‘British bill of rights’ and its continuing equivocation. When asked recently (of all days, on human rights day…) whether the government would rule out introducing legislation that would ‘purport to relieve’ the UK from its obligation to comply with Strasbourg judgments – as proposed in the Conservative Party consultation document released by former Justice Secretary Chris Grayling – the Minister of State, Lord Faulks, replied: ‘While we want to remain part of the ECHR, we will not stay at any cost’.

David Cameron had also previously refused to rule out withdrawal. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Continued Failure to Implement Hirst v UK

Published on December 15, 2015        Author: 

It is over a decade now since the European Court of Human Rights delivered Hirst v United Kingdom (6 October 2005), ruling that the UK’s blanket (legislative) ban on convicted prisoners voting breached Art 3 of Protocol 1 to the European Convention on Human Rights (hereafter, the ‘Convention’). Five years ago, in Greens and MT v UK (23 Nov 2010), the Court ordered the UK to table Convention-compliant legislative proposals to secure compliance with Hirst. This resulted in a Report of a special Joint Committee of the UK Parliament (the Report of the Joint Committee on the Draft Prisoner Voting (Eligibility) Bill (16 December 2013)), which concluded that the law reform required to secure compliance with the Convention was comparatively minor and agreed that there were sound reasons to amend the law and proposed specific ways forward.

Two years on and the UK government has done no more than acknowledge the Report, which Parliament has not considered. With the law still not amended, on 9 December 2015 a further milestone in the chronology of prisoner voting saga occurred when the Committee of Ministers passed a second interim resolution highly critical of the UK’s inaction. The Daily Telegraph has reported this as a victory for the UK, although, in fact, the Committee of Ministers will return to the matter in December 2016.

This post discusses and criticises the reasons for inaction and non-compliance supplied by the Michael Gove (Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice) when he appeared before the House of Lords’ Select Committee on the Constitution on 2 December 2015 (Q 11, pp17-18 [unrevised version]).

When pressed for answers on the prisoner voting issue, Mr Gove conceded that the Joint Committee on the Draft Prisoner Voting (Eligibility) Bill’s (hereafter the ‘Joint Committee’) Report ‘absolutely’ ‘deserve[d] in due course a fuller answer’. Nevertheless, he would not commit to when this would be, other than to say that it would be ‘after’ the publication of the consultation document on a proposed UK Bill of Rights (replacing the Human Rights Act 1998), which is to be expected in the new year. Read the rest of this entry…

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France Derogates from ECHR in the Wake of the Paris Attacks

Published on December 13, 2015        Author: 

On 24 November, France filed a formal notice of derogation from the European Convention on Human Rights with the Secretary-General of the Council of Europe. The notice is available here (and is reproduced in full below), while the French legislation referred to in the notice is available here. As far as I could tell from the UNTC website, France has not (yet) derogated from the ICCPR. The state of emergency in France has been used even with respect to issues that have no bearing on terrorism, for example to curb climate change protests in Paris. The emergency powers have been criticised on civil liberties grounds, e.g. by Human Rights Watch. It seems likely that they will be at issue in litigation before French domestic courts and before the European Court in Strasbourg. In that regard, the derogation notice is remarkably vague and unhelpful, merely stating that some of the emergency measures ‘may involve a derogation from the obligations’ under the ECHR, without explaining which measures exactly do, in fact, require a derogation and to what extent, let alone why precisely were those specific measures strictly required by the exigencies of the situation. What Strasbourg will make of this rather pro forma derogation if and when a relevant case comes before it is anyone’s guess.

Read the rest of this entry…

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