Since the UK’s decision to leave the European Union was announced, there has been further discussion of whether the UK should now choose to remain or withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Theresa May expressed her opposition to the ECHR before the vote, but most recently has said she would no longer seek to take the UK out of the Convention.
Whilst the European Convention on Human Rights is not an EU treaty, voting patterns in the UK’s recent EU referendum suggest that support for the ECHR is likely to vary by age group. In the June 2016 referendum, 71% of voters under the age of 25 voted to remain in the EU.
For these young people, the ECHR provides a set of legal rights, an ability to make some of their own decisions, and protection from age discrimination. Under 18s are reliant upon the adults to determine which freedoms they are granted.
The ECHR includes specific rights that give children their own liberties as independent people, such as the right to freedom of expression, freedom from torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and the right to education.
In the UK, the Human Rights Act (1998) made the ECHR part of domestic law. This allows children to take cases to court if they feel that their rights have been breached. Restrictions on reporting can be applied to protect the interests of children, giving them the freedom to exercise their rights more safely.
This law was crucial for Graham Gaskin, a young man from Liverpool. Graham reported that he was maltreated in public care as a child. He was denied access to his social services files by Liverpool City Council. He challenged this decision in the UK courts, but they agreed that the Council was acting lawfully. After an appeal to the UK Court of Appeal was refused, he took his case to the European Court of Human Rights, where they stated that the Liverpool City Council had breached his rights, and agreed that he should see his social services files. This also had a positive legal impact on other young people. Since this ruling, Councils are required to keep children’s social services files for 75 years, and it is now much easier for those who are in, or have been in care, to access information concerning that care.
Implications of leaving the ECHR
In the labour market, the ECHR also prohibits slavery, servitude and forced labour. Where this these injusticies do exist, children are often the victims. More broadly, the ECHR protects young workers from this discrimination by limiting the circumstances in which employers may discriminate against them on the basis of a personal characteristic.
As a founding signatory to the ECHR, the UK’s abdication would not only have negative implications for themselves, but also for other countries in the Convention, particularly those with less progressive human rights policies. For example, the Turkish President recently announced the potential use of the death penalty for some of those involved in this summer’s failed coup. However, in 1982 the Council of Europe (the international organisation that oversees the ECHR) adopted its first legally binding treaty on the abolition of the death penalty in peace time. Turkey signed and ratified the agreement, and to step away from it now would mean leaving the Council of Europe and the ECHR.
Whilst Turkish membership of the European Union is increasingly unlikely, use of the death penalty would make EU membership impossible.
Everyone, including young people, will suffer if they nolonger have the protections of the ECHR. The Quaker United Nations Office has for many years also raised concerns about the children of people sentenced to death.
It is important, especially for young people, that the UK, Turkey and other countries remain signatories to the ECHR. It guarantees rights to their citizens and to the citizens of neighbouring countries. This helps to ensure peaceful and harmonious relationships within and between countires. Leaving, would be unpredictable and even dangerous for future generations.