What would happen if the UK withdrew from the European Court of Human rights?

Danielle Cohen
By Danielle Cohen Immigration Law Solicitor Linkedin
Danielle Cohen has over 20 years of experience as a lawyer and a reputation for offering professional, honest and expert advice. 22 May 2013

The Conservative Party announced that they will withdraw from the European Court of Human Rights if the Party obtains an overall majority. At the next election.  What would that mean for the UK?

If the Conservative Party does announce the policy to withdraw from the Strasbourg Court, that will be something new but they must know that leaving Strasbourg will not stop the Court preventing the removal of foreign criminals, firstly because the European Court of Human Rights only decides a fraction of the UK’s human rights cases per year. The Human Rights Act 1998 gave local UK Courts the power to enforce most of the European Convention on Human Rights.  The idea was to bring rights home and stop our rights being forged exclusively in Strasbourg.  This is what has happened, meaning the UK Judges are largely deciding UK Human Rights issues.  If we withdraw from the Strasbourg Court tomorrow, domestic Courts will still carry on applying Human rights law and taking account of decisions of the European Court of Human Rights.  Indeed they are obliged to do so by section 2 of the Human Rights Act. Of course the Conservative Party may repeal the Human Rights Act too but all indications are that this would be replaced by some kind of Bill of Rights which is likely to be similar to the European Convention of Human Rights but with a British twist.

Secondly it is important to note that the European Convention on Human Rights is only one of a number of International Conventions and EU rules which stop the UK from doing things such as deporting people to home countries where they would face a real risk of torture.  Withdrawing from Strasbourg would do little or nothing to untangle that web, nor should we want to do so.