The UK’s Potential Withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights – Just a Flash in the Pan or a Real Threat?

The ruling Conservative party of Prime Minister David Cameron published a paper this year, called “Protecting Human Rights in the UK”. The party suggests to replace the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA), which incorporates the ECHR into UK law, with a “home-grown” bill of rights. The aim is to attribute the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) only an advisory role vis-à-vis the UK parliament and to weaken the quasi precedential effect of ECtHR case-law vis-à-vis the UK Supreme Court. In case this will not be accepted by the Council of Europe (CoE), the Conservatives propose withdrawing from the Convention. This is not the first time that the UK is flexing its muscles vis-à-vis the European Convention system.

Already in 1956 the UK openly considered quitting the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) over a case brought by Greece against the UK for its actions under emergency rule in Cyprus. After the ECtHR’s decision in McCann v UK (1995) the UK threatened not to renew the optional declaration providing for the right to individual petition. Interestingly, the better reasons obviously spoke for remaining in the Convention system in the past, as the UK never acted upon its motions. Indeed, the Conservatives’ suggestions underestimate the interdependence and interrelatedness of domestic and international human rights protection. Trying to go back to a Diceyan concept of absolute parliamentary supremacy is not in sync with modern constitutional thought in the UK. Besides domestic repercussions, these proposals might result in negative consequences at the international level. Finally, the common responsibility of all ECHR states to preserve a peaceful Europe should not be discarded on the basis of an anticipated short-term political gain ...

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