Not such a “foreign court”

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.”

More British than you think.

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.

    “Sorry, I was not at university the day we had law. Or history.”

  • 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.


About Andreas Moser

Travelling the world and writing about it. I have degrees in law and philosophy, but I'd much rather be a journalist, a spy or a hobo.
This entry was posted in Europe, Human Rights, Law, Politics, UK. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Not such a “foreign court”

  1. John Erickson says:

    I suspect a large part of it is Britain’s desire to separate itself from ANYTHING European, especially recently as the Euro does its’ best impression of the Titanic, post-iceberg. I wouldn’t worry too much, though – our Supreme Court is VERY much a part of the US Governmental hierarchy, yet Presidents for decades have refused to accept its’ influence – unless the Court agrees with the Prez! :D

  2. Pingback: This is Britain: “Panem et circenses” | The Happy Hermit

  3. Daniel says:

    But as you said, the Court is located in Strasbourg, which when I last checked was not located within the United Kingdom, hence it’s a ‘foreign court’. Even a lawyer can’t argue with that as a matter of plain fact. We are not yet the United States of Europe.

    • British ships or diplomats or tourists would then be “foreign” to the UK once they leave the island(s)?

      There is something between British and foreign. A thing or an entity can be neither, like supranational institutions.

    • Daniel says:

      I agree that if the court moved around more like ships and tourists, it would be harder to view as ‘foreign’. But there is no obvious sense in which the court is like a British ship! Not even Titanic…

  4. Pingback: Human Rights with Hollie | The Happy Hermit

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