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Dr Chris Henderson is Director of the Human Rights and International Law Unit at the University of Liverpool
“A saga that has filled the newspapers at every turn, the Government eventually – after eight years of trying and at an estimated cost of £1.7million to the British tax payer – succeeded in deporting the radical cleric Abu Qatada to Jordan on Sunday so that he can stand trial for terrorism offences.
The debacle surrounding the deportation of Qatada has prominently brought to the fore the hostility of the Conservatives towards the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) who have for a long time claimed that the UK needs to ‘fix’ its relationship with the ECHR and that in doing so all options are on the table.
Withdrawl from ECHR
There is perhaps a common misconception that it has been solely the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) that was the stumbling block to the Government’s deportation attempts. It is true that in 2012 the ECtHR ruled that the radical cleric could not be deported to Jordan while ‘there remains real risk that evidence obtained by torture will be used against him.’ But since this time it has been the Special Immigration Appeals Commission and the Court of Appeal that have ruled on the evidence that he should not be deported.
While the ECHR’s provision of a right to a fair trial undoubtedly underpinned these decisions, it was the Government’s failure to come up with credible reassurances from the Jordanian government that led to him remaining in the country.
However, withdrawing from a treaty requires the consent of Parliament. The Conservatives would not even have the support from the other party in the coalition government for such a move, let alone Parliament. As such, the most that could be done is for the Conservatives to include it in their manifesto for the 2015 general elections and then attempt to implement such a move if successful.
But this raises the question of whether it would be a ‘political disaster’ if the UK was to ultimately withdraw from the ECHR, as the President of the European Court of Human Rights put it in June. Given that many of the problems encountered by the Government have been through its own making, the answer to this has to be resounding ‘yes’.
While if such a move was successful the rights contained in the Convention might then subsequently be reformulated in a much discussed new Bill of Rights, a withdrawal from such a fundamental convention would seriously undermine the UK’s credibility in promoting human rights around the world. Indeed, it is much easier to be critical of other’s human rights record while a part of such a system of human rights protection. In this respect it would jeopardise the UK’s moral standing across the globe which would likely have repercussions across other areas of international life.
But it would also have serious repercussions for the Convention and Convention parties. Such a major state such as the UK leaving would significantly weaken the system, particularly given that it was such a driving force behind its creation back in 1950.
However, and perhaps most concerning, is that it would arguably perhaps place question marks over the very rights and freedoms that are contained within the Convention. Indeed, the potential knock-on effect of destabilising progress made in other parts of Europe towards improved human rights and better judicial systems is all too real. At the very least it certainly would not set a good example.
The widespread acceptance of such fundamental civil and political rights that over 800 million people have protection against as part of the ECHR has taken a long time to establish. The UK certainly does not want, and cannot afford, to be labelled as the pariah state that began to deconstruct such important progress. Let’s hope that this is not the option that the Home Secretary et al ultimately decides upon in attempting to ‘fix’ the UK’s relationship with the Convention.”
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