The Council of Europe (the body responsible for overseeing the European Convention on Human Rights) has published a document reviewing the cases handled by the European Court of Human Rights relating to the United Kingdom in 2012. The document makes for interesting reading and rides a coach and horses through the lies and spin reported by the press in the United Kingdom – don’t expect to see the details of this report discussed in the House of Commons, in the Daily Mail or on the BBC.
During 2012, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) dealt with a total of 2,082 applications concerning the United Kingdom of which 2,047 were either declared inadmissible or struck out. This means that the Court refused to deal with, for one reason or another, more than 98% of the applications concerning the United Kingdom that it dealt with last year. Of the 24 judgments (concerning 35 applications) that it did make, at least one violation of the convention was found in just 10 of those cases. That means, of the judgments issued, 59% found entirely in favour of the Government while 41% found partially or wholly against the Government. Putting those figures into the wider context, the UK partially or wholly lost in less than 0.5% of applications against it handled by the ECtHR last year.
It is argued by some that the ECtHR interferes too much in our domestic affairs; that contention cannot stand when put alongside the figures released by the Council of Europe. The fact is that the Court chucks out the vast majority of the cases made against the United Kingdom without even issuing a judgment, and where it does the majority find wholly in favour of the Government.
Of course, the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA) has to be taken into consideration as well when placing the effect of the Court in context. Section 2(1)(a) requires UK courts and tribunals to “take account” of judgments, decisions, declarations or advisory opinions of the ECtHR when determining questions which have arisen in connection with a convention right (which for the purposes of the HRA are only those rights listed in Schedule 1 to the HRA). That impact is slightly harder to quantify than the direct effect of the ECtHR on the United Kingdom through the judgments it issues concerning the United Kingdom. However, the direct effect is extremely small and disproves some of the hysteria around the convention, especially that hysteria which says the ECtHR is frequently finding against the UK; it finds in favour of the UK Government more than it does against it.
The truth is the media only ever report the more contentious decisions, especially those which the Government have lost. If you’re only hearing one side of the story you are going to end up with a rather unbalanced and biased view of things. The question is, how do you counter the unbalanced and biased reporting? Is it even possible to do so?