Tuesday 27 April 2010

Don't Confuse Them

I was horrified to read the following headline in last Tuesday's Guardian "Lap-dancing clubs may take cases to EU Court". My objection isn't to taking cases to court (although challenging an Act of Parliament - in this case the Policing and Crime Act 2010 - offends me as a constitutional lawyer - Parliament is sovereign in the UK - and I want decisions made by my elected representatives, rather than by unaccountable judges). The owners of lap-dancing clubs want to challenge the legislation, claiming that their rights under Article 1 of the first protocol of the European Convention on Human Rights to "the peaceful enjoyment of (their) possessions" are infringed by the requirement to apply for new licenses - and potential closure of their premises where they are located near churches or schools.
My horror arises from the fact the a paper I respect, The Guardian, has confused the European Court of Justice (EU Court) with the European Court of Human Rights. Law students who confuse the two tend to see their assignments or examination essays attracting a FAIL grade for such a fundamental error.

The European Court of Justice sits in Luxembourg. It is the Court for matters relating to the European Union - which has a membership of 27 countries. The EU website can be accessed here - and the ECJ website here. The EU began in 1951 with the Paris Treaty which Formed the European Coal and Steel Community. The additional communities of the European Economic Community and Euratom were formed in 1957 - and the three became known first as the European Communities; then the European Community - and now is known as the European Union.

The European Court of Human Rights sits in Strasbourg. It exists to give rulings on the European Convention on Human Rights. It was the product of the Council of Europe - a body now consisted of 47 members (so much larger than the 27 member EU). It includes the Russian Federation; Turkey, Switzerland, the Ukraine, other non-EU members and micro-states such as Andorra and Monaco. It was founded in 1949 - and the European Convention on Human Rights was drafted in 1950. Britain has been a member of the Council of Europe from the start and played a key role in drafting the Convention.

Sadly the British media often makes this basic error of confusing the two. But it is little wonder that euromyths gain such a hold in Britain - when even the serious press can't get their facts straight.