Margins of appreciation, cultural relativity and the European Court of Human Rights

Sweeney, James Anthony

Law; Law enforcement; Prisons; Political science; Public administration
February 2003

Thesis or dissertation

© 2003 James Anthony Sweeney. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

This thesis is about establishing a balance between universal human rights and particular cultures or local conditions. It examines the universality debate with reference to the "margin of appreciation" in the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights, in particular from the end of the Cold Wax when new Contracting Parties from central and eastern Europe came under the Court's jurisdiction.The thesis considers that analysis of these issues must not be parochial. In Part One the universality debate in international human rights law is therefore examined in detail. It is argued that universal human rights do not require absolute uniformity in their protection - even universal human rights are necessarily and defensibly qualified. In order to link the margin of appreciation to this universality debate its evolution, operation and the factors which underpin it are also clarified in Part Two. It is demonstrated that the margin of appreciation has evolved from a concession to states into a methodology for demanding ever greater justifications for their limitations upon human rights. In doing so the margin permitted accords with the defensible level of local qualification to human rights already identified.Part Three tests these conclusions against original analysis of recent case law, showing that the Court has been responsive to the differing needs of the new Contracting Parties. The Court had evolved a coherent and defensible approach to cases that have raised complex localised issues, and has maintained this even since its jurisdiction expanded. Whilst allowing modulation of European human rights protection according to local characteristics, use of the margin of appreciation does not amount to cultural relativism even in the expanded Council of Europe.

Department of Law, The University of Hull
Hopkins, W. John; Moir, Lindsay, 1970-; McCoubrey, Hilaire, 1953-2000
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