Our recent article, exposing the Conservatives’ links to far-right parties on the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, has generated a considerable amount of interest. However, it has highlighted that not everyone is aware of the the Council and its achievements… and why we should be so concerned, both for our future membership and who our politicians align with on its bodies. 

So, over a series of articles we will be addressing the question “WHAT HAS THE COUNCIL OF EUROPE EVER DONE FOR US…and why should we care?”

“Freedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere. Our support goes to those who struggle to gain those rights and keep them.”

― Franklin Delano Roosevelt

We begin with what is probably its most famous achievement, the European Convention on Human Rights. This was adopted in 1950 following a report by the Parliamentary Assembly itself and, in 1998 was, to all intents and purposes, enshrined in UK law through the Human Rights Act. 

However, both before – and especially since – it has been the subject of attacks from Conservative politicians.  In last year’s election, the party’s manifesto promised to “…update the Human Rights Act and administrative law to ensure that there is a proper balance between the rights of individuals, our vital national security and effective government.” 

When they speak of a ‘proper balance’ you can be virtually certain that do not intend tipping that balance in favour of the individual.

Home Secretary, Priti Patel who wrote in 2013 that “Ministers should reject ECHR judgements that undermine the sovereignty of our Parliament”  recently attacked “lefty lawyers” who “lecture us on their grand theories about human rights.” Comments that were later echoed by the Prime Minister.

So, let’s look at what this much-criticised document has to say.  How, despite it being driven by British lawyers in response to the rise of fascism, and supported by Churchill, the UK is so special that it is nowadays wholly unacceptable that it should have to adhere to its requirements.

It is not a long document, given its importance, but too long to be listed here in full.  These are the key rights it gives to individuals, and the full text can be found here: https://www.echr.coe.int/documents/convention_eng.pdf

ARTICLE 2 – Right to life: Everyone’s right to life shall be protected by law.

ARTICLE 3 – Prohibition of torture:  No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

ARTICLE 4 – Prohibition of slavery and forced labour:  No one shall be held in slavery or servitude.

ARTICLE 5 – Right to liberty and security: Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person.

ARTICLE 6 – Right to a fair trial:  In the determination of their civil rights and obligations or of any criminal charge against them, everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law.

ARTICLE 7 – No punishment without law:  No one shall be held guilty of any criminal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a criminal offence under national or international law at the time when it was committed.

ARTICLE 8 – Right to respect for private and family life:  Everyone has the right to respect for their private and family life, their home and their correspondence.

ARTICLE 9 – Freedom of thought, conscience and religion:  Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change their religion or belief and freedom.

ARTICLE 10 – Freedom of expression:  Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers.

ARTICLE 11 – Freedom of assembly and association:  Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of their interests.

ARTICLE 12 – Right to marry: Men and women of marriageable age have the right to marry and to found a family, according to the national laws governing the exercise of this right.

ARTICLE – 14 Prohibition of discrimination: The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this Convention shall be secured without discrimination on any ground such as sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status.

The next time you hear someone (MP or otherwise) sounding off about Europe interfering in our internal business, you might want to ask them which one of these rights they find objectionable and un-British. 

But apart from the antipathy of many in government to human rights legislation, how does this impact on the company that the Conservatives (including Henley MP, John Howell) keep in the Council of Europe through their membership of the EC/DA?

Well, in Poland, the Conservatives’ friends and joint largest grouping on the EC/DA, the Law and Justice party (PiS) have introduced judicial reforms that critics say limit the independence of the courts.  Indeed, this has now reached such a stage that a Polish barrister and two judges have filed complaints against Poland the European Court of Human Rights, alleging a lack of independence in the country’s Supreme Court. 

Meanwhile, its National Judicial Council’s membership of the European Network of Councils for the Judiciary has been suspended on the grounds it was no longer politically independent.

Of course, that could never happen here, could it?

The ECHR matters.  The Council of Europe matters. And who our government is in cahoots with on that council also matters…to all of us.

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