Angry voices, but how high the cost

Last week's ruling by the European Court of Human Rights on the Gibraltar Three raised a predictable outcry from the usual quarters. Blaming the messenger, government spokesman after government spokesman and Eurosceptic after Eurosceptic condemned the judgment.

The decision was described in terms varying from "ludicrous" to "discraceful". The underlying theme (in the light of 36 adverse decisions for the UK out of 76 cases, with only Turkey having a worse human rights record) was that Britain does not need such a court.

The human rights issue in the Gibraltar case was the right to life, a matter of no small concern to most individuals. But previous adverse decisions against British human rights issues – from prisoners' rights to immigration matters, the jailing of poll tax defaulters, right to silence issues and corporal punishment in schools – have caused no small measure of displeasure amongst policital observers. Forthcoming cases include a look at issues of sadomasochism and rape within marriage.

While the Government could be accused of being bad losers, a more worrying scenario is beginning to unfold. The Government has until mid-January to make a decision on whether or not to renew the right of individual petition to the European Commission and the Court in Strasbourg.

In a country which has no written constitution or Bill of Rights and which has refused to make the European Convention on Human Rights part of law, the current British protests against the court are designed to undermine its standing as well as play to the Eurosceptic policital gallery.

Ironically, these voices are heard at a time when Britain, the first member of the Council of Europe to ratify the European Convention on Human Rights, is attempting to encourage other former communist countries to join. Surely a case of human rights for some and not others.