70 years ago on 4 November 1950 the United Kingdom along with Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, Netherlands and Norway signed the European Convention on Human Rights in Italy. Drafted by Nuremberg trial prosecutor Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe, a British MP and lawyer, and former French resistance fighter Pierre-Henri Teitgen, it was the first instrument to give effect to certain of the rights stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly on 10th December 1948 and make them binding.
Backed by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, the Convention was the first convention of the Council of Europe and and entered into force in 1953. Every one of the 47 countries that now make of the Council of Europe have ratified the Convention. The only European country not in the Council of Europe is Belarus.
The convention protects everyone’s right to life, liberty, security, free speech, a family, privacy, beliefs, equality, education and right to vote whilst also banning the death penalty, torture and slavery. The European Convention on Human Rights is enshrined into UK Law by the Human Rights Act 1998.
It has it's own flag (the blue one with 12 golden stars in a circle used by the European Union) launched on 13 December 1955 and its own anthem "Ode to Joy" from Beethoven's 9th Symphony adopted in 1972.
How much does our membership of the Council of Europe Cost? In 2020 our contribution will be €34,153,747 towards a total budget of €496M. This is based on a formula which takes into account population and Gross Domestic Product. We get a lot in return.
Over the years the Council of Europe has produced 223 treaties - Seventeen of them have been signed by the European Union or it's predecessor. Not all of them have been signed separately by UK, so potentially after 31 December, the UK will no longer be a party to them.
The UK has though signed and ratified 122 Council of Europe Treaties but has failed to sign 71 Treaties an omission that may take on greater significance if we leave the European Union without a deal.
We have these rights because those who experienced the rise of Nazism and the Second World War, set out to create the institutions that have helped ensure an end to disagreements between European countries that every so often were settled on the battle field. It was Winston Churchill who as early as October 1942, in a note to the War Cabinet expressed hope that "Hard as it is now to say, I trust that the European family may act united as one under a Council of Europe." The 75 years of peace we have had since is testament to the success of that aspiration.
Given that the UK was one of the pioneers in founding the Council of Europe, and the work that the Council does, it is concerning that the Government proposals to 'update the Human Rights Act and administrative law to ensure that there is a proper balance between the rights of individuals, our vital national security and effective government’
As we seek to establish a new relationship with our European neighbours, is it not also vital for international security, cooperation and understanding that the Government should unequivocally reaffirm the commitment to the principles of the Convention of the European Convention on Human Rights?