Proposals to reform the European Court of Human Rights would be a 'huge step backwards for justice'

The British government has proposed changes to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) which would reverse progress towards access to justice for individuals challenging state power across Europe, Amnesty International said today.

The proposed changes to the scope of the European Court of Human Rights’ powers would reduce scrutiny of governments, undoing much of what has been achieved in advancing human rights protections across Europe over recent decades. During its Chairmanship of the Council of Europe, the British government has made plain its intention to stem the power and scope of the Court. In a leaked draft document called the “Brighton Declaration”, the British government has set out ways in which the Court could be changed and its powers reduced.

In an open letter to the member states of the Council of Europe, Amnesty International, along with other leading human rights organisations, raised serious concerns over the measures proposed in the Brighton Declaration, arguing that they would damage the integrity and authority of the European Court of Human Rights and restrict individuals’ access to the Court.

Whilst aspects of the draft proposals were welcomed by Amnesty, such as the need to improve implementation of human rights within countries domestically so that fewer cases need to be considered by the ECtHR in the first place, Amnesty also expressed concerns about the fact that the changes could lead to a system which left vulnerable individuals in countries such as Russia, Turkey, Poland and Bulgaria, open to abuse without recourse.

Tara Lyle, Policy Adviser at Amnesty International UK, said:

“It is clear that the British government are thinking exclusively of the decisions which have gone against them and are lashing out to prevent the Court from further perceived interference. In fact the Court only rarely overturns decisions of the UK Courts.

“In order to diminish the powers of the European Court in Britain, the British government is prepared to champion changes that could have a devastating effect on the future of the European human rights system which provides vital protection for people in countries like Russia - which has an appalling human rights record.

“The Prime Minister is selling people in Europe down the river, because he doesn’t want to have to subject the decisions made in British courts to the scrutiny of a moderator.”

Whilst cases from Britain account for only 2.4% of the cases reviewed by the ECtHR, over 25% come from Russia. Collectively, Russia, Turkey, Italy, Romania, Ukraine, Serbia, Poland and Bulgaria account for more than 50% of the Court’s caseload.

A copy of the Declaration was leaked to the press last week. Amnesty and other leading human rights organisations were not consulted over the draft text. In the letter to the member states of the Council of Europe the coalition of human rights organisations condemned the complete lack of transparency surrounding the current negotiations of the draft Brighton Declaration.

Background

The UK Chairmanship of the Council of Europe will hold a High Level Ministerial Conference on the Future of the European Court of Human Rights in Brighton from 18 to 20 April 2012. This Conference will adopt the “Brighton Declaration”, containing a package of measures for reforming the Court, including through proposed amendments to the European Convention on Human Rights.

The first draft of the Declaration was circulated to member states on 23 February 2012, with the formal negotiations having started on 5 March 2012.

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