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Home International Tribunals Archive for category "European Court of 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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Ukraine vs. Russia in International Courts and Tribunals

Published on March 9, 2016        Author: 

In early January 2016, Ukraine affirmed its intention to bring a claim against Russia before the ICJ under the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism (‘Financing of Terrorism Convention’). Further announcements were made in late January and February 2016 as to both an additional claim in the ICJ under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), and a claim under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). This post provides a brief overview of pending and prospective cases originating from the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

Cases pending before international court and tribunals

Ukraine is currently seeking to challenge Russia’s actions on its territory in the European Court of Human Rights and the International Criminal Court. Three inter-State cases initiated by Ukraine concerning Russia’s actions in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine are currently pending before the ECtHR (the first inter-State case by Ukraine against Russia was discussed here). In September 2015, Ukraine also lodged a Declaration under Article 12(3) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court recognising its jurisdiction with respect to the acts committed on its territory since 20 February 2014. It is true that acceptance of the jurisdiction of the ICC by Ukraine may not necessarily lead to the prosecution of Russian citizens fighting in the Eastern Regions. It is, nonetheless, another avenue used by Ukraine to put the conflict between the two States before international judges.

Russia’s actions in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine have also resulted in individual cases brought against Russia at the international level under international human rights law and international foreign investment law. As of October 2015, more than 1,400 applications seemingly related to the events in Crimea or Eastern Ukraine, lodged against both Russia and Ukraine or against one of those States, are pending before the ECtHR.

Several cases were initiated before the PCA against Russia under UNCITRAL rules apparently concerning investments located in Crimea. One of these cases, for instance, concerned interference with property situated in Crimea. Incidentally, in reply to the commencement of the arbitral proceedings in this case, Russia sent a letter stating that it did not recognise the jurisdiction of the arbitral tribunal. Despite Russia’s request not to regard the letter as consent to participation in arbitral proceedings, Read the rest of this entry…

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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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European Court Tackles the Definition of Genocide

Published on October 27, 2015        Author: 

Last week the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights delivered a very interesting judgment in Vasiliauskas v. Lithuania, no. 35343/05, in which it examined in detail the definition of the crime of genocide. This is another one in a series of relatively sui generis cases, mostly coming from the Baltic states, dealing with historical crimes and pleaded under Article 7 ECHR, which incorporates the nullum crimen sine lege principle. The basic issue in the case was that the applicant, who worked for Soviet security services and was involved in the killings of Lithuanian partisans, was convicted of genocide by Lithuanian courts after the resumption of independence by the Baltic states, under the new Lithuanian Criminal Code which explicitly had retroactive application.

The question that the Court had to answer, therefore, was whether the applicant’s conviction for genocide was reasonably foreseeable, in light of international law as it stood in 1953, when the crime was committed. The Court comes out terribly split on the outcome, ruling by 9 votes to 8 that the conviction was not foreseeable and that there was a violation of Article 7.

The majority and the minority both agree that customary international law at the time prohibited genocide, in parallel to the 1948 Genocide Convention. They also agree that the list of protected groups under Article II of the Convention, which is reflective of custom, deliberately excluded political groups. Thus, a conviction for genocide would not have been sound if the Soviets were ‘merely’ destroying their political opponents in Lithuania. But where the case really gets interesting is in the analysis of the ‘in part’ element of genocidal intent. Here the minority believes that it is perfectly fine to first define the protected group as ethnic Lithuanians, and then further define a ‘part’ of that group as Lithuanian partisans or opponents of Soviet rule. The majority, on the other hand, believes that while the idea of the ‘part’ of a group could foreseeably be thought of in numerical terms in 1953, it was not foreseeable that the part could also be defined in qualitative terms, as emerged from the case law of modern international criminal tribunals (para. 177). This last point is I think highly problematic, since those individuals convicted for intending to destroy a part of a group in modern trials could then also say that their convictions violated nullum crimen, since their crimes also preceded in time the jurisprudence of the tribunals who convicted them – that this happened by 5 or 10 years rather than 50 seems entirely immaterial.

On the other hand, accepting the minority’s approach to the definition of a ‘part’ of a group would expand the scope of genocide far beyond the approach taken so far in international criminal law. For example, if the applicant had intended to kill all gay Lithuanians or all disabled Lithuanians this would, under the minority’s reasoning as far as I understand it, also constitute genocide, even though sexual orientation or disability are not covered by the Genocide Convention. Both groups would be ‘substantial’ in number, much like the partisans. But in any event the whole case is yet another demonstration of the highly problematic and morally arbitrary nature of the definition of genocide, which is unfortunately coupled with the peculiar political magic that the word has. An excessive focus on that crime by prosecutors, judges and in public discourse only serves to systematically devalue other crimes against international law, be it in Bosnia, Darfur, Cambodia, or indeed in Soviet-controlled Lithuania.

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Living Instruments, Judicial Impotence, and the Trajectories of Gay Rights in Europe and in the United States

Published on July 23, 2015        Author: 

Evolutionary or dynamic interpretation is one of those perennial ‘big’ topics, which we e.g. recently dealt with in our book discussion on Eirik Bjorge’s recent work on the topic. Judicial pronouncements on LGBT rights are an excellent example of this phenomenon (for some of my earlier thoughts on this, see here). In particular, on 26 June the US Supreme Court rendered its blockbuster ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, in which it held (per Justice Kennedy, and by 5 votes to 4) that the US Constitution requires full marriage equality between same-sex and different-sex couples. On reading this judgment, as well as some of the recent cases on similar questions before the European Court of Human Rights, I was struck by several points on the practical realities of dynamic interpretation that I’d like to raise in this post.

First, it really is striking that despite the many differences in the text of the relevant instruments, their history, the institutional make-up or legal culture generally, US and European courts both look at gay rights generally (or the issue of gay marriage specifically) through the same analytical lenses: on the one hand there’s private life, family life or individual liberty (or in US parlance substantive due process under the Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution); on the other hand, there’s equality or non-discrimination. And while there are many differences in the concrete legal tests being applied (e.g. proportionality in Europe, tiered levels of scrutiny in the US), there are many conceptual similarities as well.

Second, in both Europe and in the US most gay rights cases, whether under privacy/liberty or under equality, boil down to one basic, fundamental problem: if a right or legitimate interest is interfered with or restricted by the state (e.g. gays are denied the right to marry), what is the justification offered by the state for that restriction, and how then should a court assess that justification. In particular, can such a restriction ever be justified by reference to public morals, or tradition, or disapproval of a particular group or behaviour alone, absent any objectively identifiable, concrete individual or societal harm. One reason why Obergefell came out the way it did was that the opponents of gay marriage were simply unable to articulate any concrete harm to anyone; each argument they tried to make of that type was easily disprovable (e.g. if marriage is inextricably tied to procreation, why then do we allow infertile couples to get married, etc. – for an example of pretty brutal judicial questioning along these lines, one need only listen to this oral argument before Judge Richard Posner, and read this judgment.)

In other words, the big question is whether it would ever be legitimate to restrict marriage to opposite-sex couples simply because ‘we’ (say the majority in a popularly elected parliament) believe that same-sex couples are icky and yucky. Is a feeling or sentiment of yuckiness (or sinfulness, turpitude, taboo, whatever) enough to deny people legal rights? Many lawyers would stop here and simply say that such irrational considerations cannot form the basis for running a legal system. But wait – in the European Convention (unlike in the US Bill of Rights) we actually have explicit references to the protection of morals in the limitation clauses of several articles, including Article 8. And in fact the Court has said, for example, that it’s fine to keep a person in prison simply because that person chooses to walk in public without wearing any clothes, even though he causes no concrete harm to others in so doing – remember that naked rambler dude? He’s still naked, and still in prison (9 years on! – see here and here for very recent developments). And if yuckiness alone does not suffice, what then of polygamy or consensual adult incest and the like (and we do have cases like that), or some other parade of horribles?

Read the rest of this entry…

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Russian Constitutional Court Affirms Russian Constitution’s Supremacy over ECtHR Decisions

Published on July 15, 2015        Author: 

On 1 July 2015 a group of Russian MPs requested the Russian Constitutional Court (RCC) to check the constitutionality of the Federal Law ‘On ratification of ECHR’, the Federal Law ‘On international treaties’, and a number of procedural norms. According to the applicants,

‘participation in international cooperation should not lead to a breach of human rights or contradict the fundamental principles of the constitutional system. In their view, the contested rules oblige the courts and other state bodies to implement unconditionally ECtHR decisions, even if they contradicted the Russian Constitution. As a result … the person who applies the law is put in an impossible situation, because such a conflict might be insoluble.’

Although the RCC held that the contested norms do not conflict with the Constitution, thus leaving the de jure legal status of the Convention intact, this ruling and its high publicity in Russian media clearly signifies a change in the political attitude towards the implementation of decisions of the European Court.

Position of the Constitutional Court

The Court confirmed that the contested norms do not contradict the Constitution. Thus, the Convention remains part of Russian legal system, according to Article 15 (part 4) of the Constitution. However, the Court reasoned that

‘the participation of the Russian Federation in any international treaty does not mean giving up national sovereignty. Neither the ECHR, nor the legal positions of the ECtHR based on it, can cancel the priority of the Constitution. Their practical implementation in the Russian legal system is only possible through recognition of the supremacy of the Constitution’s legal force.’

There is no revolution in admitting that ‘both the Constitution and the European Convention are based on shared basic values’ and that ‘in the vast majority of cases no conflict between the two documents can appear at all.’ There have hardly been any conflicts since 1998, when Russia ratified the Convention. However, when it comes to interpretation, apparently the position can differ. Read the rest of this entry…

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