Can European Court of Human Rights Overrule UK Supreme Court?

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) cannot overrule the UK Supreme Court in the direct sense of changing its decisions. However, the relationship between the ECtHR and the UK legal system, particularly regarding the Supreme Court, operates through a mechanism of compliance and incorporation of international human rights obligations into domestic law.

The UK is a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which the ECtHR interprets and enforces. The Human Rights Act 1998 plays a crucial role in this relationship by incorporating the rights and freedoms from the ECHR into UK law. This Act requires UK courts, including the Supreme Court, to take into account the case law of the ECtHR when making their decisions.

If the ECtHR finds that the UK has violated the ECHR, the UK is under an international law obligation to comply with the judgment. This might mean changing laws, policies, or practices that led to the violation. While the ECtHR's judgment is not directly binding on the specific decisions of the UK Supreme Court, it has a persuasive authority, and the UK courts must consider it. In practice, this means that if a judgment from the ECtHR indicates that UK law is not in line with the ECHR, the UK is expected to take actions to rectify this situation, which could involve legislative changes or alterations in legal interpretations by courts, including potentially revisiting precedents set by the Supreme Court.

Thus, the influence of the ECtHR on the UK Supreme Court is indirect but significant, operating through the principles of international obligation and the domestic mechanism of the Human Rights Act 1998.
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