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’.