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How The European Convention of Human Rights Affects Life in The UK

By Amy Rees - Law Student @ Churchill College, Cambridge


The UK signed the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) in 1950 and as such became bound to protect your human rights under it. It means that if your rights are violated and the domestic Courts do not provide a remedy, you can go to European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). Under this treaty, there have been many cases which have changed Britain – here are the top five (disclaimer: this is my opinion! There are many more cases which led to widespread change – have a look at some of the resources below for more).

1. A and Others v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2004] UKHL 56 (more commonly known as the Belmarsh case)

Following 9/11, the government passed legislation allowing them to detain foreign nationals suspected of being terrorists indefinitely without charge. Under article 15 of the ECHR, states are allowed to encroach on people’s rights (within reason) during a state of emergency. Parliament used this to pass the legislation, arguing that it allowed them to violate article 5 (the right to liberty). Prisoners who had been held in Belmarsh Prison for three years without being charged or put on trial took the case to Court and it reached the House of Lords. The majority judgement deferred to the government’s definition of a state of emergency but concluded that the measures taken were not strictly required in the emergency. This meant that article 15 could not apply and the legislation was incompatible (Courts cannot strike down parliamentary legislation, but they can make a declaration of incompatibility and ask parliament to review it).

This is an important case because it protects your right to liberty and puts limits on what governments can do, even in a state of emergency.