Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 29 November 2014

Human rights landmark should be celebrated

It's the 60th birthday of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The convention was developed after the Second World War to ensure Europe agreed to legal obligations to provide a set of basic human rights.

In October 2000, the Human Rights Act was introduced to incorporate the European Convention into UK law.

The act and the convention have been derided as a charter for the undeserving.

In practice, the convention and the act has provided landmark decisions in vital, but less-heralded areas, bringing an end to corporal punishment in schools, advancing the rights of mental health patients and challenging poor treatment of some older people in residential care.

The convention is a living international treaty moving with the times.

As a result, court cases have examined important social and economic issues, such as environmental and noise pollution.

The underlying principles in interpreting the convention have stood the test of time.

The European Court of Human Rights examines the legality of restrictions by considering whether the restriction has a legitimate aim, corresponds to a pressing need and is necessary and proportionate.

On proportionality, the court looks at whether there is a rational objective being pursued and the means used by government to achieve the objective.

After that, a balance must be struck between the demands of the community and the protection of an individual's right.

This scope is narrowly applied to discrimination and freedom of speech and more widely given to issues of national security, tax and moral questions.

Such framework might help us to resolve some of the difficult issues facing Richard Haass and local politicians.

The 60th birthday also reminds us of the case for a Bill of Rights here – unfinished business from the Belfast Agreement.

So we should celebrate, rather than bury, a major international achievement that has improved the lives of many.

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