As part of the UK, Scotland is part of a Member State of the Council of Europe (COE).
The COE has an important role in protecting the human rights of hundreds of millions of people— but it can be hard to find information about what it actually is.
It often gets confused with the European Union, but it’s a completely different institution.
When the UK leaves the EU, it’ll still be a member of the Council of Europe.
And the COE has many more Member States than the EU does: 47 as opposed to the EU’s 28.
What does the Council of Europe do?
The Council of Europe created the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which enshrines certain rights and freedoms in all 47 Member States, including the UK. This Convention applies to everyone in these States, including children and young people.
And this Convention has legal force in those States. If someone thinks their rights under the ECHR haven’t been upheld, they can take a case to the European Court of Human Rights within the Council.
And if that Court finds a State has failed to uphold ECHR rights, that State has to take action in response.
Before a case is taken to the Court of Human Rights, it must have been taken to court within a Member State in every way possible.
If the person taking the case is still unsatisfied with the outcomes in those courts, they may then take it to the Court of Human Rights.
The Court’s decisions will also have an impact on legal cases that happen in a Member State. Lawyers will reference these decisions when arguing that a case should be settled in a certain way.
How we’re represented in the Council of Europe
Like all members of the Council of Europe, the UK’s represented in the following ways.
Our Foreign Secretary sits on the Committee of Ministers
The Minister for Foreign Affairs from every Member State sits on the Committee of Ministers in the Council of Europe— for the UK, that will be the current Foreign Secretary.
The Ministers meet once a year and have permanent representatives to the Council of Europe who meet weekly.
The Committee works to make sure:
- that the judgments of the Court of Human Rights are respected, and
- that human rights violations don’t happen in Member States in the future.
The UK Parliament’s represented in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe
While the UK Government is represented on the Committee of Ministers, the UK Parliament is represented on the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).
The UK Parliament is made up of MPs from several political parties, including ones that aren’t in the Government. PACE makes sure these parties still have a voice at the Council of Europe.
PACE’s mission is to uphold the shared values of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. It:
- holds governments to account over their human rights records,
- presses states to achieve and maintain democratic standards,
- uncovers human rights violations,
- ensures states keep their human rights promises,
- demands answers from states around possible human rights violations, and
- recommends sanctions where necessary.
PACE also makes proposals for improving Europe’s laws and practices, and provides a cross-party forum for debate to which the governments of the Council of Europe must collectively reply.
We have a judge on the Court of Human Rights
Every State in the Council of Europe has a judge on the Court of Human Rights, each of whom is elected by PACE.
Although each State has a judge that represents them on the Court, these judges pledge to remain completely neutral when they hear cases.
A judge from the UK should treat a case about the UK in the same way they treat any other that comes before the Court.
The UK’s current judge is Tim Eicke, and you can read about him and his role on the RightsInfo website.