British politicians, especially from the Conservative Party, tend to call the European Court of Human Rights a “foreign court”. Prime Minister David Cameron just did so again in the debate about prisoners’ voting rights: “This should be a matter for Parliament to decide, not a foreign court.”
Setting aside the issue of judicial review, which in the UK is – like almost anything – more complicated than in normal democracies, this statement is so wrong that it drives me crazy each time a politician or a newspaper repeats it, which unfortunately is about every day.
Dear British, once and for all: the European Court of Human Rights is NOT a foreign court.
- Just because something isn’t 100% British, it’s not necessarily foreign. There is something in between, as in the case of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). It is a supra-national court.
- The ECtHR was established by the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) which was drafted by European politicians and lawyers after World War II. One of the leading personalities in the process was actually a British MP and lawyer, Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe.
- The court is located at Strasbourg in France, but this doesn’t make it a French court. It had to be somewhere in some country because placing it in the middle of the Atlantic would have been a bit impractical.
- The ECHR was ratified by the United Kingdom in 1953. The UK joined the ECHR and the ECtHR voluntarily and out of its own free will, after having helped in the setting up of the court.
- The court itself was then established in 1959.
- Each member state is represented by one judge. Coincidentally, the British judge Sir Nicolas Bratza is even the President of the Court.
The only “foreign” issue in this context are the thoughts of Mr Cameron and some of his colleagues. If a Prime Minister continuously gets even these basic facts wrong, he must be stupid. Or a demagogue.
If it so wishes, the UK may leave the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights. Simply leave the Council of Europe, withdraw from the European Convention of Human Rights and leave the European Union (which has acceded to the ECHR). All of this is a genuinely British decision. Nobody can and will stop you. In fact, many of us in the rest of Europe won’t miss your constant nationalist bickering at the intellectual level of the drunk crowd in a pub.