The European Convention on Human Rights is a treaty of the Council of Europe, which was adopted in 1950 and ratified by the United Kingdom in 1951. It was designed to give binding effect to the guarantee of various rights and freedoms in the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights, adopted in December 1948.
An immediate aim of the Convention was to protect Europe against totalitarianism and a repeat of the atrocities of the Second World War. However, its general purpose has been described as being to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms and to maintain and promote the ideals and values of a democratic society. It therefore has a strong, continuing relevance. The Convention rights are given a broad interpretation rather than a strict, legalistic one, so as to ensure that they are practical and effective within a changing society.
The Convention guarantees the following rights and freedoms:
Public authorities, such as the army, police, a prison or a hospital, must not cause the death of any person. Public authorities also have a positive obligation to protect life in some situations. The Convention defines a limited number of circumstances where it is not a contravention of this Article for a public authority to take someone’s life, where the force used is no more than absolutely necessary, such as when defending a person from an attack, to effect a lawful arrest or when quelling a riot.
Torture is the most serious kind of ill-treatment. Inhuman or degrading treatment is less severe than torture and may include certain physical assaults, inhuman detention conditions or corporal punishment. The ill-treatment relates to both mental and physical suffering. Whether ill-treatment qualifies as torture or inhuman treatment will depend on factors including its duration, severity and the vulnerability of the victim.
Slavery means that a person is owned by someone else, just as if they were a piece of property. Someone in servitude is not actually owned by another person, though they may have to live on that person’s property and be unable to leave. Certain kinds of labour, such as work which could ordinarily be expected to be carried out as part of a prison sentence, are excluded from this Article.
People have the right not to be arrested or detained, except where the detention is authorised by law. This Article does not just apply to police arrests, but covers all aspects of detention, including for medical or psychiatric reasons. The Article defines the six circumstances under which it is acceptable for someone to be detained, including after conviction by a criminal court or where there is reasonable suspicion that someone has committed a crime.
This is a wide ranging and highly developed right which covers all criminal and many civil cases, as well as, for example, cases heard by tribunals and some internal hearings or regulatory procedures. Article 6 accords anyone charged with a criminal offence certain rights, including the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty and to be given adequate time and facilities to prepare their defence. The emphasis on a public trial protects litigants against the administration of justice in secret with no public scrutiny.
A person may not be convicted of an act which was not a criminal offence at the time it was committed. Nor can they face a penalty which was not in place when the act in question happened. ‘Criminal’ and ‘penalty’ may have a broader meaning than under domestic law. This Article also requires that a law imposing a criminal offence or penalty be clear enough so that a person can reasonably be able to foresee the legal consequences.
This Article is very broad and has wide-ranging implications. Public authorities may only interfere with someone’s private life where they have legal authority to do so, the interference is necessary in a democratic society for one of the aims stated in the Article and is proportionate to that aim. This Article covers matters such as the disclosure of private information, monitoring of employees’ phone calls and email, carrying out body searches and restrictions on entering a person’s home. It also touches on issues such as the right for families to live together or the right not to suffer from environmental hazard. It is important to note that the rights and freedoms expressed in Articles 8 to 11 may be limited where this is necessary to achieve an important objective such as protecting public health or safety.
People have the right to hold whatever thoughts, positions of conscience or religious beliefs that they wish. Article 9 guarantees the right for everyone to manifest their religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance. Article 9 points may be raised, for example, where a person’s religious or other beliefs require or prevent them from carrying out a certain activity, such as wearing particular clothes or working on a Holy Day.
Freedom of expression covers such things as what we say in conversation or in speeches, publishing books, articles or leaflets, broadcasting, art, the Internet and many other areas. It applies to the media as well as individuals. The Strasbourg court has consistently emphasised the special importance of this right.
This includes the right of people to demonstrate peacefully, and to join - or choose not to join - trade unions.
This Article may be relevant to rules and policy concerning adoption and fostering. The Strasbourg Court has decided that it does not require a State to grant transsexuals or homosexuals the right to marry.
Not all differences in treatment are discriminatory, but only those which have no objective and reasonable justification. Article 14 only applies to the rights set out in the Convention, and thus there must be another Convention right at issue to which a claim of discrimination can be attached.
Many possessions are regarded as property, not just houses or cars, but also things like shares, licences and goodwill. The right to engage in a profession can also, in some cases, be a property right. No one can be deprived of their property except where the action is permitted by law and justifiable in the public or general interest.
The right of access to education must be balanced against the resources available. This right may, for example, be relevant to the punishments used by schools, such as the expulsion of disruptive pupils. It may also be relevant to children with special needs.
This Article applies to elections to the legislature, which must be free and fair and held at reasonable intervals. It may be relevant to issues of participation and access, such as ensuring that mechanisms for postal voting in general elections meet the needs of disabled or ill people.
The Right not to be Subjected to the Death Penalty
This provision abolishes the death penalty.
The Convention is about protecting fundamental rights and freedoms against the power of the State. This means that the rights can be relied on by any victim who claims that his or her rights have been or will be interfered with. This can be an individual, non-governmental organisation or group of individuals and in some cases also companies and other bodies. But not governmental organisations, such as local authorities (though they can rely on the Convention as a defence to a claim against them). The rights set out in the Convention are explained and developed in the case-law of the Strasbourg bodies (the Court, the Commission and the Committee of Ministers).
The Convention contains other provisions, largely about the machinery for enforcing rights, which are not incorporated by the Human Rights Act.