One of the Keys to the ECtHR Problems

It is sometimes forgotten that every international institution is made up of people – lawyers, judges, assistants, policy makers. The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) is not an exception; it is built up of professional lawyers who go through extremely competitive selection procedures. The Court is careful in selecting its staff. The Court elected its new president (Dean Spielmann, Luxembourg) just three days ago. Judge Spielmann is one of the prominent members of the ECtHR bench. However, not all staff-related policies are decided as rationally and beneficially for human rights protection as this election of the President.

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Legitimacy at Your Door Step

The Council of Europe, Strasbourg. Credit: Hans Peter MertenThe legitimacy of international organisations (IO) and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) created to protect human rights is often challenged by national politicians and the media. In these circumstances, such organisations have to embrace every possible opportunity to increase their legitimacy. However, there are issues that are at the core of human rights and are still not addressed by human rights IOs and NGOs. These issues are concerned with the question of whether the human rights IOs and NGOs should comply with the standards they are established to promote.

It is a debated issue whether human rights norms are applicable to NGOs and IOs designed to protect human rights. For me, however, it is counterintuitive to argue against it. The human rights NGOs and IOs should not only comply with the most basic human rights norms but they should be a ideal example of human rights protection. It is a common ground that the best way to persuade someone to follow your way is to persuade him or her by example. The legitimacy and credibility of a human rights institution is not only based on what this institution says but what such institution does. The NGOs and IOs which do not follow the highest human rights standards can be manipulated and threatened and therefore they can compromise the whole idea of human rights protection. Everything that I have just written may look like a truism, but it is not perceived as such by some IOs and NGOs.

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Justice Committee Hearings on Capacity Legislation

Today, the Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality will hear submissions from civil society groups on the proposed Mental Capacity Bill. The organisations participating in the hearing are: Inclusion Ireland, Members of the Psychological Society of Ireland, the Alzheimers Society of Ireland, the National Institute for Intellectual Disability (Trinity College Dublin) and the Mental Health Commission. David Stanton TD, Chair of the Committee, has acknowledged that this piece of legislation is viewed as the main barrier to Ireland’s ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and has stated: “We hope that the contribution made by this Committee will help to create a progressive law which ultimately enables Ireland to ratify this crucial convention.” This is an important point to emphasise – as while calls for the legislation to be published have been repeatedly made since Ireland signed the Convention in 2007, it is vital that such legislation is actually compliant with the Convention, otherwise, it will not achieve the desired goal, which is to enable Ireland to ratify the CRPD.

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Report on the Proceedings from the Conference on Genetic Discrimination: Transatlantic Perspectives on the Case for a European Level Legal Response

We are delighted to welcome this guest post from Aisling de Paor, a Ph.D candidate in the Centre for Disability Law and Policy at NUI Galway, and Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences (IRCHSS) scholar. Aisling is a graduate of NUI Galway (BCL) and University College Cork (LL.M).  Aisling qualified as a solicitor and specialized primarily in employment law.

On Saturday 19th November 2011, the Centre for Disability Law and Policy (in conjunction with the Burton Blatt Institute, Syracuse University, USA) hosted a conference entitled ‘Genetic Discrimination – Transatlantic Perspectives on the Case for a European Level Legal Response’ at National University of Ireland Galway.  This international conference, which was chaired by Justice John Mac Menamin of the High Court, was the first of its kind in Europe and brought together a diverse range of leading experts in the area, with the objective of exploring the case for a European level response to protect the privacy of genetic information and to prevent genetic discrimination. The conference highlighted the interdisciplinary nature of this area and focused on the interaction between genetic science, technology, ethics and the law, and in particular, how best to regulate this complex area. Continue reading

Council of Europe Recommendation on the Political Participation of Persons with Disabilities

The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe last week adopted a Recommendation that seeks to increase the participation of persons with disabilities in political and public life at all levels − local, regional, national and international.  The Recommendation is available here.  Between 80 – 100 million persons with disabilities live in the 47 Member States of the Council of Europe.  The Council of Europe noted that persons with disabilities often do not take part in the decision-making process as they face legal, physical, and societal barriers to participating. Through this Recommendation the Committee of Ministers seek to challenge this exclusion. The Recommendation aims to remove barriers and create conditions for active citizenship, without discrimination, for all and in all life settings. The Recommendation stresses that all persons with disabilities are entitled to express their views and should not be deprived of their right to vote or stand for election on the basis of disability.  This is a very progressive statement from the Committee of Ministers and goes some way towards countering the repressive position of the European Commission for Democracy Through Law (the Venice Commission) regarding the eligibility of persons with intellectual disability to stand for election and vote.   The Venice Commission in its“Interpretative Declaration to the Code of Good Practice In Electoral Matters on the Participation of People with Disabilities in Elections” stated:

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Job Vacancy: Researcher Collective Complaint to the COE

A legal researcher is required to prepare background materials and drafts for a Collective Complaint to the Council of Europe, European Committee of Social Rights of the Council of Europe on aspects of housing in Ireland. The research is being arranged by a network of housing organisations that have come together including Ballymun Community Law Centre, Barnardos, CAN – Community Action Network, Focus Ireland, The Irish Traveller Movement Independent Law Centre, Mercy Law Resource Centre, Northside Community Law Centre, the Public Interest Law Alliance (a project of FLAC) and Tenants First. Continue reading

Dale Farm: Why Human Rights Needs to Infiltrate the Planning Process

The impending eviction of travellers from Dale Farm in Essex, delayed again but scheduled for Friday or Saturday, raises the question of whether Basildon Council’s actions will be a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights, as directly applied in the UK Human Rights Act 1998. There have been a number of cases involving Travellers and Roma before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, but while the Roma have been relatively successful in defending their rights, the Travellers have won only one case. Continue reading

Moving Towards Modern Legislation on Legal Capacity in Ireland

The Centre for Disability Law and Policy recently prepared a submission to the Oireachtas Justice Committee on the Scheme of proposed legislation that will radically overhaul Irish law on legal capacity.  The full submission is available here.

The core message of the submission was that the fields of mental health law, non-discrimination, and legal capacity can no longer be considered separately.  In this regard the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities “recognises that considering these issues in separate silos was wrong and that the artificial lines drawn between these separate fields are increasingly blurred” and it is important to consider the impact the proposed legal capacity legislation on general non-discrimination provisions and mental health law in particular.  The submission highlighted that Article 12 of the CRPD on legal capacity is at the core of the Convention and that equal recognition as a person before the law is key to the enjoyment of all other rights.  The submission also flagged that the assumption of legal capacity, and the obligation on states to provide supports to people with disabilities in order to enable them to exercise their legal capacity flows from this recognition, and these are the key attributes, which need to be embedded in Irish law, in order to ensure compliance Continue reading

Call for Expressions of Interest for Appointment to European Commission against Racism and Intolerence

The Minister for Justice and Equality Mr Alan Shatter has announced that he is seeking expressions of interest from suitably qualified members of the public to be considered for appointment as Ireland’s representative on the Council of Europe’s European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI). The ECRI’s role is described as follows on the Department’s site:

ECRI’s objectives are: to review member states’ legislation, policies and other measures to combat racism, xenophobia, antisemitism and intolerance and their effectiveness; to propose further action at local, national and European level; to formulate general policy recommendations to member states; to study international legal instruments applicable in the matter with a view to their reinforcement where appropriate.

ECRI provides Council of Europe member states with concrete and practical advice on how to tackle problems of racism and intolerance in their country. To this end, it examines in each country the legal framework for combating racism and racial discrimination, its practical implementation, the existence of bodies to assist victims of racism, the situation of vulnerable groups in specific policy areas (education, employment, housing etc.) and the tone of political and public debate around issues relevant for these groups.

For more information see the Press Release. Further details on eligibility criteria and how to apply are available on the Department’s website here.


Damning New Reports on Detention in Irish Prisons: Ombudsman for Children and CPT

This week two new damning reports on Irish prisons were published: one by the Council of Europe Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Degrading Treatment (CPT) and one by the Ombudsman for Children, Emily Logan. Both outlining serious human rights concerns within the prison system of this country. While the focus of the Ombudsman for Children’s report is on St Patrick’s Institution (which houses male offenders aged between 16 and 21), the Report of the CPT covers all places of detention in Ireland including prisons, garda stations and psychiatric institutions.

The CPT Report is based on a visit to Ireland carried out by members of the Committee between 25th January and 5th February 2010 and it contains details of appalling human rights issues in Irish prisons, including matters relating to prisoner healthcare, prisoner protection, and the investigation of complaints against staff.  Continue reading