The United Kingdom has threatened to leave the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and invalidate any sentence that applies to the country. Boris Johnson’s government threatens to follow in the footsteps of Russia, which passed a law to stop complying with the rulings that the court has issued as of March 15. After the official communication, six months must pass until the abandonment of the organization by a country becomes effective.
The ECHR, based in Strasbourg, is the body that guarantees compliance with the rights and freedoms contained in the European Convention on Human Rights. We explain how the High Court works and the international context that has marked its agenda in recent weeks.
Why is the UK considering leaving the European Court of Human Rights?
The ECHR has acted against the decision of the Government of Boris Johnson to deport a group of asylum seekers to Rwanda. First, the High Court suspended the transfer of an Iraqi citizen victim of torture. This order gave rise to an ECHR duty judge to begin reviewing the deportations of another six migrants who were to be deported to Rwanda.
Hours before the sentencing, the British government suggested it might consider taking the UK out of the ECHR . As Politico reports, Johnson pondered his tenure at the Strasbourg Court, wondering, “Will some laws need to be changed to help us along the way? It is quite possible that it is, and all of these options are under constant review.”
Is it possible for the UK to leave the ECHR as Russia has done?
Esther López, doctor of International Law from the Distance University of Madrid (Udima), recalls that it is not the first time that the United Kingdom has threatened to leave the Strasbourg Court. It did so before, in 2014, to prevent those convicted of terrorism or other criminal acts from claiming respect for their human rights and avoiding being extradited. “However, he didn’t do it then, so it doesn’t look like he’s going to do it now,” says Lopez.
Is it possible to leave the Strasbourg Court?
Yes, it is possible to do it without any type of repercussion. In the same way that there is no law that requires being part of the European Court of Human Rights. According to article 58 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which regulates the rules of the international court, a State can leave the court “at the end of a period of five years from the date of entry into force of the agreement” for said country. “and by six months’ notice given in a notice addressed to the Secretary-General of the Council.”
During these six months, the court continues to supervise the country, as well as close its pending cases, “which is what is happening with Russia,” underlines the Udima expert. “If the United Kingdom communicates that it is leaving, the international court will be able to supervise everything that happens in the country for six months until the exit from the country is effective, therefore, sentences can be issued after those six months,” she adds.
However, the real capacity of the Strasbourg Court to act once the State abandons it is minimal or, directly, inconsequential, he warns. In the case of Russia, specifically, the government has stopped formally recognizing the jurisdiction of a body that could impose sanctions for its invasion of Ukraine. “Since the government of Vladimir Putin does not recognize its jurisdiction, it will invalidate any sentence applied against his country,” explains López.
Why has Russia abandoned the European Court of Human Rights?
Russia decided to leave the ECHR on March 15. In this way, the Kremlin ceases to recognize its jurisdiction and the court will not have jurisdiction to review the rulings of the Russian trials. Nor will citizens be able to use this channel to raise cases rejected by the Russian court, such as the case of the opponent Alexei Navalni.
The ECHR is part of the Council of Europe, an institution that also left Russia on March 10. The Kremlin then justified its decision by that the countries of the European Union and NATO, considered hostile by Moscow, “continue their path towards the destruction” of this institution “and of the common European humanitarian and legal space.”
That measure did not affect the Strasbourg court, so the court can continue to examine the claims filed against Russia until September when the six months of transition stipulated by the Council in its statutes are completed. As of March 30, 2022, Russia was the country with the most cases pending before the Strasbourg Court, with 18,200, 25% of the total.
Is there anybody that can replace the ECHR if a State decides to abandon it?
According to López, there is nobody like the Strasbourg Court, which stands as the ultimate guarantee of respect for human rights. “There are committees in the United Nations that also monitor compliance with human rights at the international level, not just at the European level. However, they are not courts, so their work is more political than judicial.” In other words, they do not issue mandatory sentences but rather reports.
“If the United Kingdom leaves the ECHR, the United Nations Human Rights Committee could, at the international level, demand that the British Government complies with human rights, but it could not block an airplane as has happened this time,” he says. . “It could verify whether a human rights violation has been committed and, at best, force the UK to compensate those who have suffered this violation.”
However, nobody has the efficiency or effectiveness of the ECHR. “The UN committee is for political supervision and it is much slower, the report containing the violation reaches the State and it decides (or not) how to incorporate its content,” says the expert.
What is the European Court of Human Rights?
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), based in Strasbourg, is an international jurisdiction created in 1959, which rules on individual or state claims alleging violations of civil and political rights established in the European Convention on Human Rights ( known as the Rome Convention and established in 1950).
The list of rights protected by the agreement is long and includes some as fundamental as the right to life, a fair trial, privacy, or freedom of expression. Its rulings are binding for the 46 member states of the Council of Europe that have ratified the convention.
The ECHR, therefore, is the mechanism that controls compliance with the Rome Convention, which includes fundamental rights in Europe. “If a country does not want to be controlled by the court, it is as easy as getting out of the treaty,” explains the Udima doctor.
The ECHR is independent of the European Union and should not be confused with the Court of Justice of the European Union, which deals with issues of community law and is based in Luxembourg, nor with the International Court of Justice, a judicial body of the United Nations. based in The Hague judges four types of crimes: genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and aggression.