UCL European Institute


1st Annual Sakharov Debate on Human Rights

08 December 2011, 12:00 am

Event Information

Open to


8 December 2011

The European Court of Human Rights - What's at stake?

8 Dec 2011, 4.30-6pm
followed by reception

Europe House, 32 Smith Square, SW1P 3EU

The event is free of charge. For registration please see below.

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Each December since 1988 the European Parliament has awarded the prestigious "Sakharov Prize" to people and organisations playing a crucial role in defence of human rights and freedom of speech around the world. The Prize is named after the Russian scientist and political dissident Andrej Sakharov.

This year the awarding of the Prize at the European Parliament comes during the UK's Chairmanship of the Council of Europe, an organisation which pre-dates the EU and has a wider membership.

All members of the Council of Europe are signatories to its key treaty, the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The UK, a founding member of the Council and one of the original driving forces behind the drafting of the ECHR, has given domestic effect to many of the provisions of the Convention under the 1998 Human Rights Act.

The European Union is about to accede to the ECHR on behalf of all its members including the UK, meaning that the EU Court of Justice would accept, as binding, the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. 

From 2011 onwards, the European Parliament Office in the UK, in cooperation with the UCL European Institute and other key stakeholders, will be holding an annual public debate to explore current developments on Human Rights in Europe.

2011 Sakharov Debate: The European Court of Human Rights - What's at stake?

The voluntary submission of democratic states with well-functioning legal and political mechanisms for protecting human rights to international human rights conventions and courts can appear paradoxical. Prima facie, these conventions lack the democratic legitimacy possessed by most domestic constitutions, while their courts appear to be more distant from the concerns of those to whom their judgments apply and harder for them to access. Some might argue that their very insulation from democratic pressures and popular concerns helps secure the independence necessary for the fair and impartial upholding of rights. Others fear that it leads to a failure on the part of such courts to consider these rights in context and to take account of the knock-on affects of their decisions for the rights of those who are not parties to the decision but are affected by it all the same. 

These issues have been highlighted in a number of recent debates in the UK about ECtHR decisions - most notably the Hirst case regarding the voting rights of prisoners. As a result, there is now a lively political debate about the UK's obligations under the ECHR. A number of politicians and judges have even argued that the Human Rights Act involves too much deference to Strasbourg and should be replaced by a British Bill of Rights that would allow for greater subsidiarity in human rights policy. This event will address these and related questions and tackle head-on the inaccuracies and urban myths, as well as legitimate worries, circulating in the general public's perception of what role human rights legislation plays in today's society.

Confirmed speakers:

Shami Chakrabarti (Director of Liberty)
Charles Tannock (Member of the European Parliament)
Robert Buckland (Member of Parliament for South Swindon)
Richard Bellamy (Director of European Institute, UCL)
Colm P O'Cinneide (UCL)

Chair: Joshua Rozenberg (BBC Radio 4: Law in Action)


The event is free of charge but registration is required.

Please email Joanna Zywotko - Joanna.ZYWOTKO@ext.ec.europa.eu - at the European Parliament Office.

In cooperation with:

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