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What is the European Convention on Human Rights?

The European Convention

The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) protects the human rights of people in countries that belong to the Council of Europe.

All 47 Member States of the Council, including the UK, have signed the Convention. Its full title is the ‘Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms’.

What is the Council of Europe?

Formed in 1949, the Council of Europe is completely separate from the European Union and much larger, with 47 members compared to the EU’s 28. The UK became a Council member 24 years before it joined the EU. The UK’s membership of the Council would be unaffected if it left the EU.

The Convention consists of numbered ‘articles’ protecting basic human rights. The UK made these rights part of its domestic law through the Human Rights Act 1998.

How did the Convention come about?

The Council of Europe was founded after the Second World War to protect human rights and the rule of law, and to promote democracy. The Member States’ first task was to draw up a treaty to secure basic rights for anyone within their borders, including their own citizens and people of other nationalities.

Originally proposed by Winston Churchill and drafted mainly by British lawyers, the Convention was based on the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It was signed in Rome in 1950 and came into force in 1953.

What rights and freedoms does the Convention protect?

The Convention guarantees specific rights and freedoms and prohibits unfair and harmful practices.

The Convention secures:

  • the right to life (Article 2)
  • freedom from torture (Article 3)
  • freedom from slavery (Article 4)
  • the right to liberty (Article 5)
  • the right to a fair trial (Article 6)
  • the right not to be punished for something that wasn’t against the law at the time (Article 7)
  • the right to respect for family and private life (Article 8)
  • freedom of thought, conscience and religion (Article 9)
  • freedom of expression (Article 10)
  • freedom of assembly (Article 11)
  • the right to marry and start a family (Article 12)
  • the right not to be discriminated against in respect of these rights (Article 14)
  • the right to protection of property (Protocol 1, Article 1)
  • the right to education (Protocol 1, Article 2)
  • the right to participate in free elections (Protocol 1, Article 3)
  • the abolition of the death penalty (Protocol 13)

The European Court of Human Rights

The European Court of Human Rights applies and protects the rights and guarantees set out in the European Convention on Human Rights.

Last updated: 19 Apr 2017