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Andrew Boff: The ECHR - putting the figures in context

Andrew Boff is a Conservative member of the London Assembly

Screen shot 2012-01-25 at 08.20.15There have been some justified criticisms of the European Court of Human Rights made recently, but I think we need to put some of them in context. For example, consider a much-referenced passage in “Human rights: Making them work for the people of the UK”:

"Between when it first signed up to the Court‘s jurisdiction in 1966 and the end of 2010, the UK faced over 350 rulings from the judges in Strasbourg…In about three-quarters of these judgements the Court ruled that the UK had breached a Convention right."

This would amount to an average of less than eight rulings per year. According to the book, in “about three-quarters” of these judgements the Court ruled that the UK had breached a Convention right. It is insinuated that the Court is predisposed towards finding the UK guilty. The recent judgement regarding Abu Qatada will only reinforce sentiment against the Court.

The official statistics can be read another way. ECHR-published statistics go back to 1975. Of the 14,473 applications that have been lodged with the court against the UK, 97% have been dismissed; 271 violations have been found, being 1.9% of all 14,473 applications against the UK in that period, or 61% of all judgements made against the UK government (closer to half than three-quarters).

Taking 2010 as the last full year for which statistics are available, of the 1,197 applications against the UK that were processed, all but 23 were declared inadmissible - i.e: in 98.1% of cases examined at a preliminary stage, the Court found that the UK had no case to answer. Thus it is perhaps inevitable that of the remaining 1.8% of cases that make it through the sifting to a full hearing, most of these will be judged against the UK government. (You can argue that those 98.1% of cases that are found inadmissible constitute a waste of money, as some may be frivolous, but that is a different matter.)

To take a few comparable countries:

  • Germany: of 19,501 applications made against it there have been 128 violations found, being 0.6% of all applications, 66.3% of all rulings against Germany.
  • France: of 20,756 applications made against it there have been 604 violations found, being 2.9% of all applications, 74.1% of all rulings against France.
  • Italy: of 11,796 applications made against it there have been 1617 violations found, being 13.7% of all applications, 76.2% of all rulings against Italy.

So the situation is broadly the same for other countries: the Court dismisses a vast percentage of applications made. However, when they do admit a case through to a Court ruling, they will tend to find a violation in a majority of cases, as one might expect. A marginally greater percentage of violations are found against Italy, France and Germany than the UK.


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