The swift disposal of my application by the European Court of Human Rights was a huge blow. I was hoping that the matter would at least be heard and that I would finally be able to understand why I lost. My application was based on a genuine legal dispute with the BBC and I had exhausted every available judicial remedy in the UK.
The decisive finding was that the BBC Values are no more than a mission statement. The BBC offered no evidence to support this claim. The term mission statement did not appear once in the witness statements of ten senior managers. Indeed the statement of values recorded as a finding in the judgment is not authentic. The version on which the Tribunal relies has been rewritten. A collective and individual pledge of loyalty to the Values has been transposed into corporate slush. There is no point in bothering with trials if evidence is irrelevant and can be tainted at will.
Moreover there are broader issues of legal certainty. I was heavily penalised for bringing a claim after a judge at a Pre-hearing Review decided the matter could proceed to trial. This was based on her rejection of the BBC’s claim that its values could not amount to a belief. Her judgment was side-stepped by a sister judge without application of the law or evidence. Significantly the Court of Appeal judgment conflicts with the judgment which had been appealed. It also shows there is no effective protection for freedom of thought and conscience and the UK is in breach of its treaty obligations.
I may be wrong but it is difficult to tell when every point of law raised has been studiously ignored and the ECHR simply adds to the misery. I’m grateful that Helena De Vylder writing in Strasbourg Observers argues single judge decisions undermine the Court’s legitimacy. She notes that while they have slashed the Court’s backlog it means applicants are given no reason for why they failed. The Court merely states:
“In the light of all the material in its possession and in so far as the matters complained of are within its competence, the Court found that the admissibility criteria set out in Articles 34 and 35 of the Convention have not been met.”
“This decision is final. It is not subject to an appeal either to the Grand Chamber or to any other body. The Registry is unable to provide you with any further details concerning the Single Judge’s decision. Consequently, you will not receive any further correspondence from the Court in connection with this case. In accordance with the Court’s instructions, the file will be destroyed one year after the date of the Single Judge’s decision.”
De Vylder says this leaves claimants in the dark giving them no insight into the fairness of the decision making process. If anything “the absence of appeal, and the quick destruction of the files, even create the appearance that the judge wants to cover up an unwillingness to investigate the issue.” Applicants are given no chance to correct an administrative error even though the court will restore a case to its list on such grounds.
This absence of reasoning conflicts with a general obligation on the Court to give reasons for its judgments, a requirement she suggests lies at the heart of the Convention system as a whole. De Vylder disagrees that sending applicants standardized letters saves time. “As the case has to be examined, and the letters need to be sent anyway, a requirement to state which admissibility condition has not been met and the brief reasons therefore, cannot be considered to impose a serious burden on the Court.”
Such a simple and straightforward proposal will of course only attract suspicion. Still I look to find a reason.