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Human rights law works well, judge tells Raab
European Court president says UK law has given it the best record in Europe
Europe’s most senior human rights judge told the justice secretary Dominic Raab this month that the United Kingdom continues to have the best human rights record in Europe.
Síofra O’Leary, president of the European Court of Human Rights, explained why this was when she responded to a question I had asked remotely at the court’s annual news conference in Strasbourg. On the human rights court’s standard measure — the number of cases before the court for every 10,000 inhabitants of a country, the UK had the best record with a percentage of 0.03% in 2022 — as it did the year before.
“There only other two countries that came close were Ireland and Germany with 0.07%,” O’Leary added. And the UK was found to have violated the convention in just two cases, with 250 of the 260 UK applications having been struck out at a preliminary stage. Russia, with 374 violations, was 47th on the list of Council of Europe states —until it was expelled last year.
Visiting Strasbourg on 12 January, Raab told O’Leary why he had introduced his much criticised Bill of Rights Bill. She explained that, as a judge, she could not comment on a legislative proposal. But, she continued,
what I was able to explain to the deputy prime minister was that the Human Rights Act 1998 has led to a closer alignment between the Strasbourg and domestic courts in relation to the application of the convention. And this has undoubtedly resulted in a reduction in the number of applications coming from the United Kingdom and in the number of violations which are found in relation to the United Kingdom.
O’Leary reminded Raab of the evidence that she — together with her predecessor Robert Spano and the UK judge Tim Eicke — had given in 2021 to the independent Human Rights Act review led by Sir Peter Gross. From the judges’ perspective, the Human Rights Act appeared to be doing a “very good job”.
She told Raab:
It embeds the convention within the domestic system. It ensures that applicants go to UK courts rather than coming to the Strasbourg court. And it gives rise to case law in the United Kingdom, given by UK courts who often engage rigorously — even critically — with our case law but who interpret and apply the convention.
So the Human Rights Act, as I explained to him, embeds the convention within the domestic system. And that allows us, as judges in Strasbourg when dealing with UK cases, to apply the principle of subsidiarity and the margin of appreciation in a particular way, generously, because the domestic judges have effectively done the job.
O’Leary added that she had greeted Raab with a request for additional funding. As she explained, that was something she asked every visiting government representative. Raab’s response was not revealed.
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