Corbyn and those European Courts

Jeremy Corbyn caused some distress amongst legal commentators over the weekend when he said to Andrew Marr that the European Court of Human Rights was ‘only in part an EU institution’. That simply isn’t true: the European Court of Human Rights (‘ECtHR’) is not in any way an EU institution. It is a Council of Europe court – and the Council of Europe is an organisation both broader and older than the European Union. The ECtHR exists to enforce the European Convention on Human Rights (the ‘ECHR’ – yes, all these abbreviations are confusing), something that was created in the aftermath of the Second World War and the Holocaust, agreed in 1950 and entering into force in 1953. Brits played a key part in its creation – it is something that for the most part the British legal community are justifiably proud of. So no, the ECtHR is not in any way an EU institution.

There is a link to the EU in a way, as a number of people have mentioned – but not in a way that makes the ECtHR in any way an EU institution. This link is that new member states of the EU are required to have signed up to the European Convention of Human Rights – and thus come under the jurisdiction of the ECtHR. This is because the EU recognises that the ECHR represents a minimum standard of Human Rights compliance – not that the ECHR is an EU document or the ECtHR is an EU institution. It isn’t even legally certain that existing members of the EU are required to be signatories of the ECHR – they all are, however, and no sensible or even slightly humane member state would be considering leaving the ECHR.

This is because the ECHR is a throughly positive document, and anyone who supports human rights should support our continuing to be a signatory. Certainly any Labour Party member – let alone any Labour Party leader, particularly one like Jeremy Corbyn with a history of supporting – indeed championing – human rights.

There is, however, at least one person who has suggested that we leave the ECHR: Theresa May. She’s been frustrated by the ECtHR more than once – and it is hard not to conclude that she’s far from a fan of human rights. Indeed, some have suggested that her antipathy for the ECJ – the European Court of Justice, which is is Luxembourg, as opposed to the ECtHR which is in Strasbourg – because she’s confused between the two courts.

That confusion is why so many legal commentators reacted so angrily to Corbyn’s remarks. Muddying waters that are already pretty murky feeds into the confusion between the courts – and potentially puts human rights even further at risk than they already are.

There is another potential reason that Corbyn might not want to be completely clear about this. If you support the European Court of Human Rights – which you should do if you support human rights – then that gives yet another reason to oppose Brexit. Whilst we’re still in the EU, it’s harder for the likes of Theresa May to achieve their aim of removing us from the ECHR – though technically, as noted, existing members may not be required to be signatories of the ECHR, that has not been tested and is highly unlikely. Keeping us in the EU provides another layer of protection for human rights. That, in these somewhat troubling times, might be crucial.

5 thoughts on “Corbyn and those European Courts

  1. Repeatedly, Jeremy Corbyn has been told that, despite what he believes, European State Aid rules would not be a barrier to enacting policies that Labour set out in its 2017 General Election.

    He continues steadfastly to take the opposite view.

    Ongoing membership of the European Union would, therefore, frustrate the will of Jeremy Corbyn (and Seumas Milne).

    Some are beginning to wonder if a Labour Government led by Jeremy Corbyn would actually go further with state intervention than publicly announced by the party thus contravening the State Aid rules of the EU, if not those of the World Trade Organisation.

    Moreover, Labour’s plans to take back into public hands, for example, the water industry do, on some days, involve paying the holders of shares in those companies less than their market value.

    Such a policy, if enacted, and that might not be an easy task, and then followed through would contravene both the spirit and the letter of the European Convention on Human Rights.

    The ECHR was very much drafted and agreed in the context of events in Nazi Germany.

    Jews and others seeking to leave Germany were, amongst other things, forced to sell goods and chattels to the Nazi Government at knock down prices before they were permitted to emigrate.

    Would Baroness Chakrabarti be wheeled out during the early days of a Corbyn led Government to explain why the temporary dis-application of parts of the ECHR was necessary to carry out the mandate of that government?

    In early 2018, Labour announced that its was considering plans to force landowners to give up sites for a fraction of their current price in an effort to slash the cost of building council houses.

    Under the legal change proposed by the then Labour Shadow Housing Secretary, John Healey, landowners would have to sell sites to the state at knockdown prices.

    Jolyon Maugham QC in February 2018 said this policy was just like Blair and Brown’s planning gain supplement, except contrary to the ECHR.

    In Corbyn and Milne, we are dealing with people who do not always object to the arbitrary use of power.

    Quite often, their main objection seems to be more to the political sympathies of the user of said arbitrary power rather than to the resulting abuses.

    It is not an abuse of arbitrary power, if they or their political allies are doing it, see Venezuela, because they are the good guys and are be doing it for the right reasons.

    These are people who would ride rough shod over law and convention to achieve their aims.

    You cannot, after all comrade, make an omelette without breaking eggs.

    And if it’s not your eggs that you expect, if not plan, to be broken …

    Seumas Milne said a year or so back that East Germany would have been fine without the Stasi, but even without the existence of that body, the German Democratic Republic would not have been eligible to sign up to the ECHR.

    And Andrew Murray, Len McCluskey’s representative at the Court of Jeremy Corbyn is a big fan of North Korea.

    I think we may safely say that Corbyn and his entourage are not the heirs of Attlee, Bevan and Bevin.

    Our human rights are not safe with them.

    • As an aside, it was only in the late summer of 2017, during an appearance at the Edinburgh Fringe, that Jeremy Corbyn learnt that Scotland has a separate legal system from those of the other three countries that make up the United Kingdom.

      Imagine that?

      Someone who had been an MP for over 34 years did not know something as fundamental as that about the constitution of the UK.

      He had not only been in Parliament when matters peculiar to Scotland were being debated, but he had also been there when votes were being taken on laws for Scotland.

      Incidentally, he opposed Scottish devolution.

      I think it is fair to say that Jeremy Corbyn is not big on detail when it comes to constitutional and legal matters.

  2. You might have found space to mention that Corbyn only referred to the ECHR at all to say that Britain wouldn’t be leaving it even if we do leave the EU. As you say, it’s Theresa May and her party who have a problem with the ECHR – and Corbyn’s the last person we should hold responsible for that.

    • I might indeed, and apologies for not doing so – but it would be more convincing if he took the logical step I suggested and made the *right* link with the EU, not the wrong one. He can’t do that, though, as I outlined…

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