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The European Convention on Human Rights, which came into force in 1953 after signature, in 1950, established the most effective system for the international protection of human rights which has yet come into existence anywhere in the world. Since the collapse of communism it has come to be extended to the countries of central and eastern Europe, and some seven hundred million people now, at least in principle, live under its protection. It remains far and away the most significant achievement of the Council of Europe, which was established in 1949, and was the first product of the postwar movement for European integration. It has now at last been incorporated into British domestic law.
Nothing remotely resembling the surrender of sovereignty required by accession to the Convention had ever previously been accepted by governments. There exists no published account which relates the signature and ratification of the Convention to the political history of the period, or which gives an account of the processes of negotiation which produced it.
This book, which is based on extensive use of archival material, therefore breaks entirely new ground. The British government, working through the Foreign Office, played a central role in the postwar human rights movement, first of all in the United Nations, and then in the Council of Europe; the context in which the negotiations took place was affected both by the cold war and by conflicts with the anti-colonial movement, as well as by serious conflicts within the British governmental machine.
The book tells the story of the Convention up to 1966, the date at which British finally accepted the right of individual petition and the jurisdiction of the Strasbourg Court of Human Rights. It explores in detail the significance of the Convention for Britain as a major colonial power in the declining years of Empire, and provides the first full account of the first cases brought under the Convention, which were initiated by Greece against Britain over the insurrection in Cyprus in the 1950s. It also provides the first account based on archival materials of the use of the Convention in the independence constitutions of colonial territories.