Sir Geoffrey Nice QC: Human Rights - Whether In Europe or Out?
In a public lecture recently given at Gresham College, Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, Professor at the College and 'Britain in Europe' member reflected on the - damaging - consequences of a potential Brexit, including the risk of referenda confrontation, division of the public within the UK, a potential break up of the Union itself and xenophobic aversion to foreigners.
'This is a problem for the nation (apparently) but that the nation cannot properly solve because there is no consensus', he argued. 'Without consensus it is change itself (from in to out or, as it would otherwise be, from out to in) that should be avoided and for the same reason the Swiss Direct democracy moves by stages to avoid referenda confrontation, it seems. And for the same reason that countries with written constitutions often require substantial majorities in their parliaments for constitutional change'.
Moving on to a consideration of how human rights will feature in the vote in June, Sir Nice highlighted how little knowledge of these technical issues the average voter will have in practice.
Dispelling in the first place myths about how the ECHR and EU law work in practice, Sir Nice then moved to a detailed analysis of ECHR jurisprudence and the benefits it has brought to the UK, but, equally importantly, the positive influence of the UK in bringing about effective human rights protection in Europe precisely through the medium of the ECtHR.
Sir Nice noted that joining the Council of Europe was 'an exercise that has identified and reinforced rights through a court accessible to individuals as well as to other entities'. This led him to ask:
'Given the margin of appreciation of ECtHR matters and given the overlap of the Convention and the EU Charter, that has NOT to date brought many judgments hostile to the UK, why are we now being invited to revert to nation state law on the basis we always know best, cannot learn from foreigners and no longer wish to colonise others with our ideas as we often enough trumpet we did when colonisation was in full swing?'
Britain in Europe supported this public lecture through providing evidence on the positive influence of UK jurisprudence upon ECtHR jurisprudence that then led to effective human rights change in Europe.
A transcript of the lecture can be accessed through here (copyright Sir Geoffrey Nice).