Focus: Human Rights and the ECHR

The Value of the European Court of Human Rights to the United Kingdom


National debates concerning the appropriate role of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in the United Kingdom (UK) recently intensified with the suggestion by the government that the UK might leave the European Convention on Human Rights system. It has been argued that a British Bill of Rights, to replace the current system of national human rights protection provided by the Human Rights Act 1998, would provide better protection than the ECtHR, making its role in the national system redundant. Claiming that the ECtHR is legitimate and has an impact that is usually illustrated by the transformative power of judgments more than 10 years’ old, have not provided a convincing answer to this claim. In this article, rather than legitimacy or impact, the value of the ECtHR to the objective of protecting human rights through law is assessed. Three different levels of value are identified from the relevant literature and then applied to the judgments of the Court concerning the UK from 2011 to 2015 to determine what has happened in practice. It is concluded that given that the UK government’s objective remains to protect human rights through law, although some types of value are now more relevant than others, overall the potential value of the Court to the UK in achieving this objective is still clearly evident.

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