Good for Business a Surprise Verdict on EU Human Rights Law ; Legal Analysis

By Rozenberg, Joshua | The Evening Standard (London, England), October 2, 2007 | Go to article overview
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Good for Business a Surprise Verdict on EU Human Rights Law ; Legal Analysis


Rozenberg, Joshua, The Evening Standard (London, England)


IT is just seven years since companies were first allowed to enforce their human rights in the English courts. David Pannick, QC, the leading human rights barrister, says that commercial law has changed radically over this period. "Companies are now as eager as prisoners, immigrants and minorities to know what their human rights are," he explains.

Hang on a moment: since a company is not a human being, how can it have "human" rights? Under legislation that came into force seven years ago today, people may enforce their rights under the European Convention without having to go to the European Court in Strasbourg.

The Human Rights Act 1998 says that any "person" who can take a case to the European Court can bring a human rights claim before a court in Britain.

And the Strasbourg judges decided long ago that a person can include a company.

There are limits, of course. Just as a company cannot be sent to prison, it cannot complain that it has been deprived of its right to liberty. Still less can it be tortured or unlawfully killed. The test is whether the company itself can show it has been directly affected by the alleged breach of its rights.

For companies, perhaps the most useful right granted by an amendment to the Human Rights Convention is peaceful enjoyment of its possessions.

One company that claimed a breach of this right was Pye Homes, established 80 years ago in Oxford. As JA Pye (Oxford) Ltd, it lost a case in the House of Lords in 2002 to squatters who had occupied 56 acres of the company's land near Thatcham, Berks for more than 12 years.

The squatters, who had been allowed grazing rights over the land while Pye waited for possible planning permission, were entitled to the land through adverse possession though this law has since been changed.

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