What is the European Court Of Human Rights?


Abu Qatada

Radical preacher Abu Qatada's request for another appeal hearing against deportation has been rejected by the European Court of Human Rights.

The court disagreed there was a chance that he would be tortured when he gets returned to Jordan.

The radical Muslim cleric was making another attempt to try to stop him being kicked out.

Qatada was convicted of terrorism charges in 2000 and is seen as a threat to the UK.

But what is the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and why does it have power over decision in the UK?

How did it come about?

First up, the court has nothing to do with the European Union.

It's part of a totally separate organisation called the Council of Europe, which is made up of 47 European nations.

Countries as diverse as Russia, Turkey, Britain and Armenia are members.

What has it got to do with Britain?

The Council of Europe was set up after the Second World War.

Its focus on human rights came especially in response to the Holocaust when Nazis murdered millions of Jews and other minority groups during World War II.

It aims to encourage democracy, integration, human rights and freedom in Europe.

I thought those things were guaranteed in the UK anyway?

Judges from 47 ECHR nations
Image caption Every country provides a judge, though their legal training can vary

People can take their own countries to court at the ECHR if they feel their rights have been violated.

The court rules on a range of areas - known as articles.

Its decisions are legally binding on member nations and the articles cover things like a ban on slavery, peoples' right not to be tortured and the right for men and women to marry.

Each country sends one judge to the court.

Britain's judge in Strasbourg, Sir Nicolas Bratza QC, currently holds the senior post of President of the Court.

Why all the controversy then?

There have been a number of recent rulings that have upset UK Governments.

Facts about ECHR:

    • Represents: 800 million people
    • Official languages: English and French
    • Headquarters: Strasbourg, France
    • Upholds European Convention on Human Rights
Source: Council of Europe

Most recently, in January 2012, the court said that Abu Qatada, once described as "Osama bin Laden's right hand man in Europe," cannot be extradited to Jordan on terrorism charges, because he wouldn't get a fair trial there.

The ECHR protects individuals right to a fair trial.

The court has also threatened action against Britain for not complying with a ruling that said prisoners had to be given the right to vote.

Some British politicians are angry they feel they're being told what to do and can't ignore the court.

So can't Britain just ignore the rulings - or even leave?

The UK would face fines if it ignored the rulings.

There's also the risk Britain would lose its international standing and reputation.

The UK signed up to the European Convention on Human Rights in 1951.

Abu Qatada
Image caption Abu Qatada faces trial in Jordan for plotting to bomb US and Israeli tourists

The UK wants changes made to the way the court works though.

Prime Minister David Cameron thinks the ECHR interferes unnecessarily in issues already dealt with by national courts, as they are claiming in Abu Qatada's case.

The coalition government also says its huge backlog of cases threatens rather than helps human rights.

The ECHR currently has more than 150,000 cases waiting to be looked at.

Any changes will be slow because they have to be agreed by all 47 countries signed up to the European Convention on Human Rights.