In 1946 at the University of Zurich, Churchill spoke of the ‘tragedy of Europe’, of how from such a fountain of the Christian faith and ethics, had sprung a series of frightful, nationalistic quarrels which had wrecked the peace of Europe and the prospects of mankind. It was the indignity suffered by millions during two world wars that prompted European leaders to found the Council of Europe and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
There is nothing controversial in the Convention. The right to life, liberty, security, fair trial, privacy, expression, property, free elections and other fundamental rights, are ones we can all presumably subscribe to. The hand of judicial activism may occasionally be felt, but on the whole the Convention can be credited for sweeping away some obvious malpractice and omissions in English law.
Two notable examples are the cases of Golder v. United Kingdom (1975), and Malone v. UK (1984). In Golder the Court ruled that it was a breach of Article 6 for a prison governor to intercept and prevent letters from an inmate reaching his solicitor. As a consequence the Prison Act (1952) was amended to require governors to pass on letters to legal counsel.
Prior to Malone v. UK (1984), whether to allow phone tapping was broadly left entirely to the discretion of the Home Secretary. However the ECHR ruled that this was an insufficient safeguard and that the law must be “sufficiently clear in its terms to give citizens an adequate indication as to the circumstances in which and the conditions on which public authorities are empowered to resort to this secret and potentially dangerous interference with the right to private life.” Quite a relevant quote given today’s issues!