The Ministry of Justice (“MoJ“) yesterday published its annual report, Responding to human rights judgments (the “Report“).  The Report sets out the Government’s position on the implementation of human rights judgments of the European Court of Human Rights (“ECtHR“) and the domestic courts.

The Report’s publication is timely, coming against the backdrop of the recent Conservative Party proposals – Protecting human rights in the UK – on the future of human rights in the UK (discussed in our previous blog), as well as the publication this week of the Court of Justice of the European Union’s opinion on EU accession to the European Convention on Human Rights (“ECHR“).

Historical statistics

The Report notes that, from 1959 to 2013, of 22,114 applications against the UK, 18,737 (85%) were declared inadmissible or struck out.  Of the remaining cases, only 499 (2%) have resulted in a judgment and, more importantly, in only 297 (1.34%) cases has the Court held the UK to be in violation of the Convention.  Thus, only 1.34% of cases brought against the UK have resulted in an adverse judgment (up to 2013).

Compliance with ECtHR judgments

When the ECtHR finds a member state to have acted in breach of the Convention, implementation of remedial measures to comply with judgments is monitored by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe (the “Committee“).  The UK is currently placed 30th out of 47 states in terms of the number of judgments that have yet to be implemented (with 27 currently outstanding).  To give some perspective to that figure, those states ranked below the UK had between one and 22 cases pending execution.  At the other end of the scale, the member state with the worst compliance record was Italy, which has 2,593 pending judgments.

Since the 2013 statistics were published, there are now only 12 UK cases before the Committee.  Two of these relate to the well-known judgments in Hirst (No 2) and Greens and MT, both of which concerned prisoner voting rights.  No doubt conscious of the 2015 UK general election in, the Committee has deferred further discussion of those cases until September 2015.

Declarations of incompatibility under the Human Rights Act 1998 (“HRA”)

Since the MoJ’s last report, as at July 2014 there had been only one new declaration of incompatibility under section 4 of the HRA.  In R (Reilly) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions [2014] EWHC 2182, the Administrative Court held that the Jobseekers (Back to Work Schemes) Act 2013 was incompatible with Article 6 and Article 1 of the First Protocol to the ECHR.

Comment

Despite the media furore surrounding the “mission creep” of the Strasbourg Court, there appears to be little statistical foundation for “the mounting concern at Strasbourg’s attempts to overrule decisions of our democratically elected Parliament and overturn the UK courts’ careful applications of Convention rights” (see the Conservative Party’s proposals at page 3).  Indeed, the number of violations found by the ECtHR in 2013 (eight in total) was at its joint lowest in at least a decade.

On the domestic front, the English courts have hardly been overly zealous in their wielding of the declaration of incompatibility, with only two such declarations having been issued since 2011.

Lacking in any sensationalist or headline-grabbing sound bites, the Report is likely to attract little (if any) media attention.  It is, however, worthy of consideration in the context of the Conservative Party’s proposals for reform of “Britain’s human rights laws” (the proposals underline the importance of “putting Britain first”; it is not clear whether the exclusion of Northern Ireland is deliberate or, if it is, whether this stems from complications that may arise from the commitment of the UK Government in the Good Friday Agreement to incorporate the ECHR into the law of Northern Ireland).

The Government acknowledges in the Report that, “under Article 46(1) of the ECHR, the UK is obliged to implement judgements of the ECtHR“.  Against this, the Tory proposals stated in terms that, under their reforms, the ECtHR would “no longer [be] able to order a change in UK law and [become] an advisory body only“.  It is difficult to see how this could be achieved without UK withdrawal from the ECHR given that any amendment to Article 46 would require the consent of all 47 signatories.  The draft Bill of Rights, which will give further detail on the proposals, is expected this month, and is therefore awaited with interest.