This month marks 70 years since the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) came into force.

The ECHR is an international treaty which aims to ensure that states in Europe cannot deny human rights to anyone – a framework as vital today as it was in the wake of the tragedies of the Second World War, when it was created. 

Despite this, the UK’s membership of the ECHR is under threat, with Ministers openly questioning support for the treaty unless the European Court of Human Rights upholds the Government’s harsh anti-refugee laws, such as the Illegal Migration Act 2023.

To mark the occasion, PLP’s CEO, Shameem Ahmad, said: 

“The ECHR is a force for good – in the UK, in Europe and beyond. The UK’s membership is a sign that we are part of a community of nations dedicated to human rights and the international rule of law. These are so important to defend, especially now after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the troubling treatment of refugees and migrants across Europe – exemplified by the UK Government’s Illegal Migration Act which flies in the face of fairness, human rights and international law.

“At PLP we see the good the ECHR does every day for people in the UK – through our work in the courtroom, in the evidence we submit to Parliament, and in the recommendations we make to Government. Our human rights are stronger because of this crucial treaty.” 

Now signed by all 46 democracies in Europe, the ECHR enshrines and protects some of our most basic and fundamental human rights, including the right to life, the prohibition of torture, the prohibition of slavery, the right to a fair trial, freedom of expression, and the right to protest.

British lawyers played an important part in establishing the ECHR, having seen firsthand during WWII the importance of having international protection for human rights – including Nuremberg prosecutor, Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe. The UK was one of the first countries to ratify the treaty and enable British people to take cases to the European Court of Human Rights.  

70 years on, the ECHR is still our main backstop when the UK Parliament and Government fail to properly protect our human rights. This has included rulings that the police could not keep a mass database of innocent people’s DNA and could not randomly stop-and-search people with no suspicion of wrongdoing.

The Strasbourg Court also caused the Government to lift the UK’s prejudiced ban on gay men and lesbian women serving openly in the armed forces and made the Government decriminalise same-sex relations in Northern Ireland. 

PLP’s CEO, Shameem Ahmad, said: 

“At a time when the UK Government appears to be considering leaving membership of the ECHR, we remind Ministers that only two countries have ever left: Greece, following a military coup which abolished its democracy and imposed a junta; and Russia, which was removed after it invaded Ukraine. The ECHR embodies democracy – the UK is a voluntary member, it helps prevent harm to minorities by majorities, and the European Court consistently engages with the views of British courts and governments.  

“Now more than ever, the UK Government must not weaken its resolve to ensure basic standards of human dignity, fairness and equality embodied in the ECHR. It must hold its nerve, and reinforce the importance of human rights.”

For more on why the ECHR is so essential, see the Council of Europe’s case studies, illustrating how the ECHR has secured people’s fundamental rights across Europe, and read PLP Senior Researcher Lee Marsons on: