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EUROPEAN CONVENTION ON HUMAN RIGHTS

In developed countries today the rights and freedoms of the individual are regarded as important. When we say that we live in a free society, we mean by this that everyone has certain basic rights and freedoms. These include freedom of speech, freedom to practise one's chosen religion, freedom from discrimination because of race or sex and the right to liberty. There are laws on particular points including racial and sexual discrimination, but some other rights are not written into the law. Even where our rights are set down in the law, there are limitations on these rights. Some limitations are needed in order to protect other people's rights or to protect society as a whole. To illustrate this, consider the right to liberty; clearly it is important that ordinary people have freedom of the person, the right not to be held prisoner; but there are situations where it is necessary to imprison violent and dangerous criminals to protect society from them.

In the English legal system the right to liberty has been important for centuries and was set out in the Magna Carta, an important document in British history which King John of England signed at Runnymede in the south of England in 1215. By doing this he agreed that limits could be set on royal powers. Later, especially in the seventeenth century, the document was seen as a statement of basic civil rights. There are limitations on these rights; but a person can only be detained on specific grounds set out in the law. The most widely used reasons for detaining people are as follows: a lawful arrest on the order of a court while awaiting trial, a sentence of imprisonment after being found guilty of a crime under the Mental Health Acts. If a person has been unlawfully detained he may sue in the civil courts and claim damages for false imprisonment. Where the person is still being detained there is a special writ of habeas corpus that can be obtained. An application for this writ is made to the Queen's Bench Divisional Court and its effect is to order that the detained person be brought before the court immediately. An application for a writ of habeas corpus takes priority over any other case in court on that day and it will be heard first. The court will decide whether the detention is lawful or not; if the court decides that there is no lawful reason for the detention it will order the immediate release of the prisoner.

The Human Rights Act 1998 came into effect in 2000. This Act incorporates the European Convention on Human Rights into British law making it unlawful for any public authority to act in a way that is incompatible with a Convention right. Citizens can take action for breach of a right. Even before the Human Act came into effect the UK Government had signed this Convention.

The European Convention on Human Rights was drawn up in order to try and protect people's rights after the horrors of the Second World War. It followed the Universal Declaration on Human Rights made by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1948. Two years later in 1950 the Council of Europe adopted the European Convention on Human Rights. The Council of Europe is not part of the present European Union but a separate international organization formed in 1949 and with a bigger membership than the European Union. In 1950 there were 21 members and 20 of these, including the United Kingdom, signed the European Convention on Human Rights. Since that date other European countries have joined the Council of Europe and signed the Convention, making 32 members in 1994.

The European Convention on Human Rights sets out the rights and freedoms that the people of Europe should have. It sets out that everyone has the right to liberty and that no one shall be deprived of his liberty except where the law allows arrest or detention. Even in these cases the arrested person has the right to be told of the reason for his arrest and brought before a court within a reasonable time. It states that everyone's right to life shall be protected by law but it does recognize that States may impose the death penalty for those convicted of certain crimes. The Convention says that no one shall be tortured and declares that slavery is not allowed.

In order to protect the rights set out in the Convention, a Court of Human Rights was established in 1959. The procedure for applying to this court was simplified in 1994. A new permanent single European Court of Human Rights was established and individuals who feel their rights have been breached can apply direct to the Court. Member States can also report another Member State to the Court. A Chamber of the Court will consider whether the complaint is admissible and if it decides that it is, the Government of the State concerned is asked for its comments. There is the possibility of coming to a friendly negotiated settlement, but if this is not successful then the Court will hear the case in full and give a judgment. The European Court of Human Rights sits at Strasbourg.

 

VOCABULARY NOTES

right, n. ; basic rights ; equal rights ; impaired right ; indefeasible right ; infringed right ; inherent right i' ; lawful/legal/legitimate right ; to affect the rights ; to assign/to convey/to transfer a right ; to deny/to deprive of a right i; to infringe/to violate a right ; to protect/to uphold rights ; to reserve/to retain a right ; to vest rights in smb. .

freedom, n. ; ; absolute freedom ; conditional/limited freedom ; freedom of action ; freedom of assembly ; freedom of conscience ; freedom of contract ; freedom of discussion/speech ; freedom of faith/religion/worship ; individual freedom .

society, n. ; ; affiliated society ; registered society ; unregistered society .

penalty, n. ; ; commuted penalty/punishment ' ; custodial penalty , ' ; death penalty ; extra-legal penalty ; extreme penalty ; grave/high/severe penalty ; lenient/light/mild penalty/punishment ' ; to assess the penalty ; to charge/to calculate/to compute a penalty ; to impose/to inflict a penalty ; to make a penalty conditional .

imprisonment, n. '; awarded imprisonment '; false imprisonment ; imprisonment before trial '; imprisonment for life/life(-long) imprisonment '; penitentiary imprisonment '; strict imprisonment '; to send to imprisonment '.

detention, n. ; ; i ; continuous detention ; detention in custody ; detention on remand '; detention pending trial ; illegal detention ; lawful/legal detention ; preventive detention '; provisional detention ; temporary detention ; unfounded detention .

application, n. ; ; ; application for a job ; industrial application ; to find application .

prisoner, n. '; '; conventional prisoner '; discharged prisoner ', - ; life-term prisoner , '; long-sentence/long-term prisoner , '; political prisoner '; prisoner of the war/army prisoner ; secure prisoner , .

priority, n. ; ; first priority ; legislative priorities ; top priority ; to give priority ; to reserve priority .

complaint, n. ; ; ; civil complaint ; criminal complaint ; cross complaint ; original complaint ; telephone complaint , ; to address complaint ; to consider a complaint ; to file/to lodge/to make a complaint .

comment, n. , ; case comment ; comment by the defence , ; comment by the prosecution , .

settlement, n. ; amicable/out-of-court/voluntary settlement ; claim settlement ; judicial settlement ; to reach settlement .

judgment, n. ; ; valid judgment , ; to appeal against the judgment ; to enforce/to execute/to satisfy judgment ; to give/to make/to pass/to pronounce/to render a judgment ; to recall a/to reverse/to revoke judgment ; to reserve/to suspend a judgment .

VOCABULARY EXERCISES

 

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