Source – theguardian.com/
By – Jon Henley
Category – Matthews Bark
Amiran Natsvlishvili is not complaining about the kidnapping. Nor about the brutal beatings, or the huge ransom his family had to pay for his release. The former managing director of a state car plant in Georgia is not bitter, either, about the accusations of embezzlement and misuse of public funds.
No, as his young lawyer argues in a bright, high-ceiling courtroom in Strasbourg, what Natsvlishvili really objects to is that the state lied to him.
Locked up for more than four months in the same vile cell as the man who kidnapped and beat him as well as a convicted murderer, when the state finally offered him a deal – cop a plea, pay a fine and you’re free – Natsvlishvili was so desperate that he jumped at it. And then he was told he could not appeal.
That is why we are here, says the lawyer to the judges behind the bench at the European court of human rights: this man has plainly been denied the right to a fair trial. Georgia of course denies it, but it is in breach of article 6, paragraph 1 of the European convention on human rights.
Along with the European commission in Brussels, the Strasbourg-based ECHR could reasonably lay claim to being one of the most maligned institutions in Britain. (“Hardly surprising, I suppose,” quips a senior British court official. “Our name contains the words ‘European’ and ‘human rights’. Not exactly a winning combination.”)
Conservative MPs have said it is high time for Britain to “quit the jurisdiction” of a “supranational quango”. The justice secretary, Chris Grayling, is “reviewing Britain’s relationship” with an institution he says has “reached the point where it has lost democratic acceptability”.
Grayling said last week the ECHR did not “make this country a better place”. David Cameron has said the court risks becoming a glorified “small claims court” buried under a mountain of “trivial” claims , and suggested Britain could withdraw from the convention to “keep our country safe”. The home secretary, Theresa May, has pledged the party’s next manifesto will promise to scrap the Human Rights Act, which makes the convention enforceable in Britain.
Former lord chief justice Lord Judge and three other senior British judges have recently backed this stance in high-profile lectures, arguing that by treating the convention as a “living instrument” the ECHR is “undermining democracy”. Its judges, rather than parliament, are now making British law, they allege, and parliamentary sovereignty should not be ceded to “a foreign court”. But another leading supreme court judge, Lord Mance, last week forcefully defended the ECHR’s contribution to British law.
Parts of the press have been more outspoken, railing against “meddling, unelected European judges” who are “wrecking British law” and demanding the government “draw a line in the sand to defend British sovereignty” by “defying Europe … and ignoring the rulings of this foreign court”.
That’s not how they see things in Strasbourg. In the 60 years of its existence, the ECHR has reached well over 10,000 judgments in cases such as that brought by Natsvlishvili, prompting changes to national laws and procedures in nearly 50 countries that have now signed the convention.
In the past decade, the court has required Bulgaria to care properly for people with mental and physical disabilities, and Austria to allow same-sex couples to adopt each other’s children. It has forced Cyprus to take action against sex trafficking and Moldova to halt state censorship of TV. Its judgments have compelled improvements in Russian prisons, and more effective punishment of domestic violence in Turkey.
In France, laws have been passed to protect domestic servants from forced labour, while illegitimate children now have equal rights to inheritance.
Britain has been obliged to take greater care of vulnerable prisoners, regulate the monitoring of employees’ communications, protect the anonymity of journalists’ sources, bring the age of consent for gay people in line with that for heterosexuals and force local councils to observe proper safeguards in evictions.
“It isn’t just about the human rights of individuals,” says Paul Mahoney, the court’s veteran British judge, “it’s about the functioning of the rule of law – of democratic institutions – in countries not all of which have, like the UK, enjoyed 300-odd years of democracy and freedom.
At the end of the day, it’s possible for somebody from a tiny village to come here, take their government to court and get the law changed. That really is a small miracle.”
Deputy registrar Michael O’Boyle is equally forthright. “For six decades,” he says, “this institution has radiated a highly impressive body of case law out to the legal systems of a large number of countries – 47 today. It’s an advance in civilisation.”
Source – theguardian.com/law/2013/dec/22/britain-european-court-human-rights