The human rights cases absolutely everyone should know about

This was my attempt to answer Adam Wagner’s request for a list of the fifty human rights cases absolutely everyone should know about. Inspiration failed me after No 16. And there’s only one overtly “religious” case on the list: I ignored Eweida & Ors v UK [2013] ECHR 37 on the grounds that all it did was to offer a fairly minor relaxation to the “specific situation” rule.

The notes are bite-sized to comply with Adam’s 50-word limit. And umpteen important ECtHR cases were excluded from consideration because they didn’t involve the UK. On reflection, they mostly seem to be about sex and violence…

  1. Ridge v Baldwin [1963] UKHL 2: When the Brighton Watch Committee dismissed its Chief Constable without a proper hearing it had violated natural justice. The Lords overturned the principle that the doctrine of natural justice could not be applied to administrative decisions. The case helped lay the foundations for the modern law of judicial review.

  1. Soering v UK [1989] ECHR 14: Accused persons could not be extradited to the United States on a capital charge: to do so would breach Article 3 ECHR (inhuman and degrading treatment).
  1. Al-Jedda v UK [2011] ECHR 1092 and Al-Skeini & Ors v UK [2011] ECHR 1093: People interned without trial in Iraq by the UK’s armed forces were subject to the jurisdiction of the UK, not of the United Nations – and were therefore under the supervision of the ECtHR: their detention contravened Article 5 ECHR (liberty and security of person).
  1. Othman (Abu Qatada) v UK [2012] ECHR 56: A wanted prisoner – however notorious – could not be extradited to a country where he might be convicted on evidence obtained by torturing third persons: to do so would violate his right to a fair trial under Article 6 ECHR.
  1. HJ (Iran) and HT (Cameroon) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2010] UKSC 31: Two gay asylum-seekers feared persecution if repatriated. The Court rejected the argument that they could survive repatriation by living “discreetly”: they should be “as free as their straight equivalents … to live their lives in the way that is natural to them … without the fear of persecution”.
  1. Sunday Times v UK [1979] ECHR 1: Legal proceedings about thalidomide – “a matter of undisputed public concern” – had been pending for several years. An injunction to stop the newspaper publishing an article about thalidomide children on grounds of alleged contempt of court violated Article 10 ECHR (freedom of expression).
  1. R v R [1991] UKHL 14: If a husband makes his wife have sex against her will, it’s rape. The Court overturned the previous law about assumed marital consent: Strasbourg subsequently held in CR v UK [1995] ECHR 51 & SW v UK [1995] ECHR 52 that that had not breached Article 7 ECHR (retrospective punishment).
  1. Cadder v Her Majesty’s Advocate (Scotland) [2010] UKSC 43: Refusing a detainee in Scotland access to legal advice before being interviewed by the police was incompatible with the right to a fair trial under Article 6 ECHR (ie, it’s now rather harder than before for the Scottish police to fit you up). 
  1. Tyrer v UK [1978] ECHR 2: Judicial birching in the Isle of Man was “degrading” within the meaning of Article 3 ECHR (inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment) even though most Manx residents supported it; the case also demonstrated that the Isle of Man was bound by the Convention even though not part of the UK.
  1. Dudgeon v UK [1981] ECHR 5: Criminalising male homosexuals in Northern Ireland, even consenting adults, violated Article 8 ECHR (private & family life): “attitudes towards male homosexuality in Northern Ireland and the concern that any relaxation in the law would tend to erode existing moral standards cannot … warrant interfering with the applicant’s private life…”.
  1. Christine Goodwin v UK [2002] ECHR 588: A male-to-female transsexual should be able marry her male partner: the fact that she could not, violated her rights under Article 8 ECHR (private & family life) and Article 12 (right to marry).
  1. I v UK [2002] ECHR 592: The fact that a male-to-female transsexual’s acquired gender was not fully recognized in domestic law failed to respect her rights under Article 8 ECHR (private & family life).
  1. Campbell and Cosans v UK [1982] ECHR 1: Even though corporal punishment was not at the time illegal in Scottish schools, if parents believed as a matter of principle that their children should not be beaten in school, the schools had to respect that belief and abide by their views.
  1. Lustig-Prean and Beckett v UK [1999] ECHR 71 and Smith and Grady v UK [1999] ECHR 180: The blanket ban on homosexuals in the armed forces and the policy of discharging them if discovered breached Article 8 ECHR (private & family life).
  1. Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, Re Judicial Review [2012] NIQB 77: Regardless of the Adoption (Northern Ireland) Order 1987, all individuals and couples should be eligible to be considered as adoptive parents regardless of marital status or sexual orientation, in accordance with Article 8 ECHR (private & family life). (The Supreme Court subsequently refused to hear a further appeal.)
  1. R (Hodkin & Anor) v Registrar-General of Births, Deaths and Marriages [2013] UKSC 77: “religion”, as a spiritual or non-secular belief system that claims to explain mankind’s place in the universe and relationship with the infinite and teach its adherents how to live in conformity with its values is protected by Article 9 ECHR, whether or not  it involves belief in a Supreme Being.
Cite this article as: Frank Cranmer, "The human rights cases absolutely everyone should know about" in Law & Religion UK, 26 February 2015,

One thought on “The human rights cases absolutely everyone should know about

  1. One more I couldn’t remember when I was writing the original list:

    17. Hoekstra & Ors v Her Majesty’s Advocate (No. 2) [2000] ScotHC 32; 2000 SCCR 367: Judges must not only be impartial but be seen to be impartial. The nature and tone of an earlier newspaper article by Lord McCluskey criticising the ECHR compromised his perceived impartiality to preside over a criminal appeal in which Convention rights were pled: appeal remitted to three different judges.

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