It is now almost 60 years since the European Convention on Human Rights came into force (on 3rd September 1953). What does it seek to protect? At its most basic level it protects various rights and freedoms without which human existence would be intolerable.
The most fundamental right is that to life itself. It is on the basis of this that the law has developed a requirement for a through inquest where the State (or its agents) may have had a hand in a death. The right not to be subjected to treatment which is degrading (don't just think of the torture chambers of despotic regimes but think of mentally ill persons in hospital etc). The right to liberty and security (so that the powers of the State to arrest people are clearly defined in law and properly used). The right to a fair trial when the power of the State is lined up against you - a right which must apply no matter what the charge or the person. Freedom from retrospective criminal law (always a useful tool for despots seeking to destroy his opponents). The right to respect for private and family life (for example, protecting families against removal of their children except for very good and proper reasons). The vital democratic freedom of thought, conscience and religion. The right to marry and to found a family. The late Lord Bingham asked:
Which of these rights, I ask, would we wish to discard? Are any of them trivial, superfluous, unnecessary? Are any them un-British? There may be those who would like to live in a country where these rights are not protected, but I am not of their number.
The influence of the Convention has been massive and has brought about fairer and more humane law in many areas - please see the Factsheet for some examples. The Convention acts as a long stop on governmental power. For this reason, the Convention (and the Human Rights Act 1998) are under sustained attack from a number of notable British politicians who seek to enhance their own power at the expense of the rights and liberties of the British people. Such politicians are, all too often, aided and abetted by popular newspapers particularly when some 'hate figure' such as Abu Qatada (recently returned to Jordan) is in the news. Over concentration on such high profile cases produces a distorted image and hides the good which has come from the convention. Just a little of that good work may be seen by reading the Factsheet.
Posts on Human Rights:
Domestic law and the European Convention on Human Rights - Part 1 - 5th May 2013
Domestic law and the European Convention on Human Rights - Part 2 - 7th May 2013
Domestic law and the European Convention on Human Rights - Part 3 - 14th May 2013
Domestic law and the European Convention on Human Rights - Part 4 - 18th May 2013