So, just how useful is the European Convention on Human Rights?

The European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR) gets a good press, and rightly so. The world is a better place for it. Ireland finally got around to incorporating it in 2003, by means of the European Convention on Human Rights Act, 2003, but a report launched tonight argues that it has had very little effect so far.

It may be that it is simply too early to tell. Certainly, I hope that once it has bedded down, the Act will have a positive impact. But the report, commissioned by The Law Society of Ireland and Dublin Solicitors’ Bar Association (DSBA), and written by Donncha O’Connell (NUI Galway), Siobhan Cummiskey (Griffith College Dublin), Emer Meeneghan and Paul O’Connell (NUI Galway) [link broken] is an invaluable resource for anyone working in the field of Irish Human Rights law, but it makes for dispiriting reading in places.

The ECHR Act 2003: A Preliminary Assessment of Impact (available: DSBA | Law Society | NUI G (all pdfs)) provides a comprehensive analysis of the Irish interaction with the ECHR before and after incorporation, and contrasts the 2003 Act with the United Kingdom’s experience of incorporation after their Human Rights Act, 1998. My sense that the UK courts have been more enthusiastic about incorporation than the Irish is amply borne out by this Report’s analysis (though the UK courts rightly do not escape the authors’ criticism for their caution and lack of principle). The meat of the report is a detailed and valuable summary in chapter 3 of all of the Irish cases which have involved the 2003 Act in some way, and the tables in chapter 4 setting out the manner in which the ECHR, the Act and related constitutional issues arose in judicial review cases.

What emerges is that, although referring to the Act is now routine in such cases, it succeeded in so very few. If that is because Irish law already adequately protects the rights secured in the ECHR, then this must be a good thing. But if that is because of judicial timidity, then that is dispiriting. Thanks, Donncha, Siobhan, Emer and Paul for doing us all a great service in compiling this report.