The European Convention on Human Rights has seen vast changes to the legal framework of countries across Europe. By imposing fundamental freedoms and liberties in an indefeasible form, it has created a host of legal problems and issues for courts to tackle in an attempt to improve human rights. Distinct from the US, which already retains fundamental freedoms through its definitive constitution, much of Europe in particular the UK doesn’t have the same codified provisions for its citizens. This has now been revolutionised by the ratification of the European Convention (ECHR), which sets out certain primary standards that must be attained in relation to each individual citizen. In this article, we will look at the advantages of the ECHR, and the wide-ranging impact it has had on the various constitutions around Europe.
The European Convention on Human Rights was established as an international treaty to afford a uniform standard of human rights treatment across Europe. Covering basic freedoms like the right to life through to trickier issues such as the right to liberty and the right to marry, ECHR has had an astonishing impact on Europe both legally and politically. In passing legislation, European governments have to as a matter of law legislate in accordance with the provisions contained within the ECHR. This means parliaments of signatory countries are being bound by their predecessors to legislate in a particular way, which has ruled out a number of would-be pledges and meant the reversal of certain national laws.
One area where this has caused problems is in abortion. The perpetual morality debate aside, abortion has been held to contravene the right to life provision in certain European countries. Although there is still great scope for challenge, this could potentially cause problems in the coming years as more and more cases of this nature are brought before the European court. Another major problem area is that of same sex marriages. The universal right to marry means that any provision stopping same sex marriage anywhere in Europe could potentially be struck down as illegal, requiring nations to actively realign their current provisions to avoid any discrimination. For this reason, the UK, amongst others, have taken proactive measures to permit same-sex marriages to avoid the embarrassment of a public ruling against them. This obviously raises problems of national power and freedom: nations are now utterly bound by the principles of European ‘liberty’, whether they like it or not.
Thankfully this social and legal upheaval is working towards a more liberty-orientated Europe. It is certainly taking time, and given the fact that the ECHR is over half a century old, its impacts are becoming more and more apparent as time wears on and as courts are presented with modern challenges located within the context of the original ECHR provisions. Additionally, the European Convention on Human Rights is being regularly updated and amended to provide a steadfast constitution for the citizen whilst retaining the flexibility to adapt to contemporary situations. Although the ECHR and the provisions contained within it have met stiff opposition throughout their lifetime, most would now agree that the level of individual certainty provided by these fundamental freedoms is making for a better quality of life and reducing the scope for discrimination and prejudice across Europe.
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