You might expect the Prime Minister to have one resolute line on the European Court of Human Rights, and to stick to his position – which previous to today seemed to be almost one of contempt for decisions which run counter to those made by “British” courts. Yet it appears that David Cameron is wont to change his tune. This morning he tweeted:
Delighted that principle of wearing religious symbols at work has been upheld – ppl shouldn't suffer discrimination due to religious beliefs
— David Cameron (@David_Cameron) January 15, 2013
Interesting choice of lingo there, given that far from being upheld, the decision of the domestic British courts have actually been overturned. Strasbourg decided that British Airways was wrong to ban their employee from wearing a cross to work.
Three other individuals, also Christians, heard the Court’s decision in their cases today, as well. The European Court of Human Rights agreed with our domestic courts in regard to the NHS banning a nurse from wearing a cross to work (as there could be health risks associated with dangly jewellery) and in regard to a registrar and a relationship councillor who had said that they would consider discriminating against homosexual couples, based on their faith. Read this excellent analysis of the findings by Jerome Taylor.
Lest we forget, this same Court also reprimanded the UK government over the indefinite retention of the DNA of innocent people, when it placed restrictions on the freedom of the press and when it decided that it was happy to indefinitely detain terror suspects without charge or trial.
The deliberations of the court are not simplistic, nor are they black and white. Judgements are arrived at by a careful process of weighing up the rights of all those involved. Today’s mixed bag of decisions is testament to the fact that, far from being the blunt inflexible instruments they are often portrayed as, human rights are actually nuanced – and rights such as the right to religion is not an unlimited right – decisions are dependent on a number of factors relating to the specifics of the case.
Just as the court returns a variety of verdicts, the Prime Minister’s love/hate responses to those decisions are varied - some make him feel ‘physically sick’ - some delight.
Perhaps it is time that the PM met with triumph and disaster just the same (with apologies to Rudyard Kipling).
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.