The UK must accept its human rights responsibilities

Professor Alan Miller, Chair of the European Group of National Human Rights Institutions and Chair of the Scottish Human Rights Commission has made the following comments in response to remarks given by Prime Minister David Cameron at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (read the Prime Minister's speech here).

Professor Miller said: “David Cameron sets out a strong case for the value of an effective regional human rights system, but he is wrong about the way forward for the Court. The European Convention on Human Rights is built upon the shared responsibilities of States within the Council of Europe. The current pressure on the Court is a result of failure of States to properly meet those responsibilities.

“The European Court of Human Rights is already well underway in its process of reform and is delivering results. Despite a rising number of cases before it, the Court is keeping pace and is reducing the backlog of cases in an efficient way. In fact, it is estimated that the backlog of inadmissible cases will be cleared within four years. It is premature to call for additional reforms just as we are starting to see the positive effects of the latest programme of change.

“The European Convention on Human Rights, with the Strasbourg Court at its heart, is one of the most effective systems of human rights protections in the world. The unfounded attacks on the Court’s interpretation of ECHR by UK Government Ministers in recent months can hardly help the UK’s efforts to influence its peers, and in fact gives the UK a poor reputation amongst our international colleagues. It is worrying when States, such as the UK, try to narrow their accountability in relation to human rights protection. Not only does it reduce the protection of human rights in Europe, but it leads to a reduction in human rights protection across the world as other countries use that undermining of human rights protection as an excuse to do the same.

“The way to reduce pressure on the Court is not to restrict access to it, but rather to ensure that everyone is educated about their human rights and the ways in which they can claim their rights. States need to ensure that legislation, policy and practice are in compliance with international law, to ensure effective domestic remedies, and to ensure that judgments are implemented. This would surely be a more practical and positive way forward.

“The UK can and should be more constructive and have a longer view when discussing major human rights systems and issues on an international stage.”

As the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) recognised in its resolution yesterday (read the resolution at this link), the ECtHR has made an ‘extraordinary contribution’ to the protection of the human rights in Europe, however the primary responsibility to promote, protect and uphold human rights rests on the State.

Professor Miller added: “The Government should be focussing on ensuring that they meet their responsibilities in terms of protecting, respecting and promoting human rights for everyone in the UK, and building a positive discussion about the benefits of human rights protection. The UK must accept its responsibilities domestically, in Europe and in the wider world.”  


  • The Scottish Human Rights Commission currently holds the role of Chair of the European Group of National Human Rights Institutions. This regional group represents 36 human rights commissions, ombudsmen, and other national human rights institutions across Europe.

  • The Commission is also one of two Scottish representatives on the Advisory Panel to the UK Bill of Rights Commission, which is charged by the UK Government to examine the future of the Human Rights Act.