In Patrick Stewart's sketch "What has the ECHR ever done for us?" concerning the Brexit, he plays the Prime Minister of the UK and asks (satirically):

[..] and what has the European Convention for Human Rights ever done for us in return?

After some discussion, the committee conclude:

  • The right to a fair trial
  • The right to privacy
  • Freedom from torture and degrading treatment
  • Freedom of Religion
  • Freedom of Expression
  • Freedom from Discrimination
  • Freedom from Slavery
  • Protecting Victims of Domestic Violence
  • Peace in Northern Ireland

He implies, that all those rights are at least mainly due to the ECHR. Since a lot of those seem pretty basic, the question is: Are the listed points consequences of the ECHR? That is, would they apply in Britain without the ECHR?

  • 3
    I think you need to narrow down precisely what you mean by 'apply'. If the question is "have people won cases based on ECHR that they would have otherwise lost", then the answer is obviously yes. If it's "will representative democracies inevitably descend into tyranny?", I'm not sure that is objectively answerable. – richardb Apr 27 '16 at 12:14
  • 1
    I'm not sure how to put it (Sorry, I'm not a native speaker), but my question aims for a significant change in practice based on the ECHR. So yes, as richardb is stating it: "have people won cases based on ECHR that they would have otherwise lost" Edit: This obviously does not apply to the last statement, so I'm not sure how to put it concisely. Maybe those questions should be splitted? – cero Apr 27 '16 at 13:01
  • 7
    Aside: For anyone interested, the linked video seems to be a parody on the Monty Python's Life of Brian scene What have the Romans ever done for us. Is there a name for a Parody of a Parody? – Jamiec Apr 27 '16 at 14:34
  • 1
    The film is not related to Brexit, it's a response to Theresa May (bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-eu-referendum-36128318) who is Pro-EU membership but seems to think that the British shouldn't be held to the standards they mostly wrote... – James Snell Apr 27 '16 at 14:36
  • 2
    It is ok for me to just focus on the current laws not on speculations. As you already said you can never tell whether the UK would have gotten some national laws on these topics without the ECHR. – cero Apr 28 '16 at 15:31


In direct answer to your questions

Are the listed points consequences of the ECHR?

In a matter of speaking, yes, they are. As is shown below; the ECHR was written, in part, with reference to previous legislation which was in force in the UK since the 17th Century. Once the ECHR was agreed, it was brought into an updated 1998 law (effective from 2000).

would they apply in Britain without the ECHR?

Yes, they would as the recomendations therein have already been written in to UK law.

European Convention on Human Rights

To take a quick run through your listed points (Source: http://www.echr.coe.int/Documents/Convention_ENG.pdf)

  • The right to a fair trial

This is covered by Article 6: Right to a fair trial

In the determination of his civil rights and obligations or of any criminal charge against him, everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law [..] Everyone charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law.

  • The right to privacy

This is covered by Article 8: Right to respect for private and family life

Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.

  • Freedom from torture and degrading treatment

Covered by Article 3: Prohibition of torture

No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment

  • Freedom of Religion

Covered by Article 9: Freedom of thought, conscience and religion

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.

  • Freedom of Expression

Covered by Article 10: Freedom of expression

Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers

  • Freedom from Discrimination

Covered by article 14: Prohibition of discrimination

The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this Convention shall be secured without discrimination on any ground such as sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status

  • Freedom from Slavery

Covered by Article 4: Prohibition of slavery and forced labour

No one shall be held in slavery or servitude. [..] No one shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labour

  • Protecting Victims of Domestic Violence

This one is not explicitly covered, however many of the other Articles would seem to imply this. Such as Article 5: Right to liberty and security

Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be deprived of his liberty save in the following cases and in accordance with a procedure prescribed by law

  • Peace in Northern Ireland

Again, not explicitly outlined in the ECHR (Why would it?) however, no doubt much of the appeasement of former combatants would no doubt have owed something to the promises of fair trials, and other protection from derogatory treatment.

Human Rights ACT (1998)

This legislation enshrined the recommendations of the ECHR into UK Law

An Act to give further effect to rights and freedoms guaranteed under the European Convention on Human Rights; to make provision with respect to holders of certain judicial offices who become judges of the European Court of Human Rights; and for connected purposes. (Source: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1998/42/introduction)

The full schedule of this act covers all of the points above as suggested by the ECHR.

1688 Bill of Rights

Before 1998 UK citizens had many of these same rights before the ratification of the 1998 law. Most of this is covered by the 1688 Bill of Rights

An Act declareing the Rights and Liberties of the Subject and Setleing the Succession of the Crowne.

(Yes, UK laws can be OLD! And I did not typo that quote. Language, like Laws, change over time)

  • 8
    did people in the UK not have these rights before the act went into law? – user1666620 Apr 27 '16 at 13:56
  • 5
    I don't think that answers the question. I think the question boils down whether those principles were used in a way for which the UK doesn't already has laws. Did the European Court of Human rights use them to overturn the decisions of UK courts? – Christian Apr 27 '16 at 13:58
  • 3
    @Christian - you realise it was (in part) the UK which wrote the ECHR - attempting to spread existing thinking to other member states? – Jamiec Apr 27 '16 at 14:03
  • 4
    @user1666620 - They were based on British values, but not all of them were enshrined in law and also were found to be at the whim of if the government/home secretary felt like obeying them or not (hence the 1998 HRA which collected and codified those rights) it also provided recourse through British courts as going to Strasbourg is a very slow and expensive proposition. – James Snell Apr 27 '16 at 14:41
  • 7
    @Jamiec : If existing UK law already protects those freedoms than the ECHR doesn't provide new freedoms for the UK citizens. There's a claim that the ECHR supposedly protects the privacy of UK citizens via article 8. But does it? Does it prevent the UK government from giving all electronic correspondence of it's citizens to USA? No. Article 6 speaks about a right to a public hearing but the UK has gag laws that prevent certain trials from being public. Without a court actually forcing the UK to abide by the laws, the ECHR doesn't protect the rights de facto. – Christian Apr 27 '16 at 20:50

I am short on time, so forgive me if I only answer one portion:

Regarding "Freedom from torture and degrading treatment", in 1978 the ECHR found the UK guilty of this during the Troubles in Northern Ireland due to the use of stress positions, waterboarding and mock executions on UK citizens by their government. Though this is now being appealed as new evidence has come to light that the British government of the time hid evidence from the ECHR.

The court documents:



News article regarding the appeal:


  • Interesting, thank you. This at least makes up for the "torture" part, assuming this wouldn't have been brought to court without the ECHR. I would like to get a bit more information on the other points though to accept it. – cero Apr 28 '16 at 11:13

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .