Relationship between UK Supreme Court, Court of Justice of European Union, and European Court of Human Rights

The relationship between the UK Supreme Court, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), and the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) reflects the complex legal landscape in which UK law interacts with European law. This relationship, governed by statutes and conventions, has evolved over time, shaping the contours of human rights protection and legal sovereignty in the United Kingdom.

UK Supreme Court and ECtHR
The Human Rights Act 1998 is a cornerstone of the UK's human rights framework. It incorporates the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) into UK law, allowing UK courts, including the Supreme Court, to hear human rights cases and to make rulings based on the Convention. The Act mandates UK courts to interpret legislation in a manner compatible with Convention rights, insofar as possible.

While UK courts strive to interpret domestic law in harmony with the ECHR, they cannot strike down legislation. Instead, they can issue a declaration of incompatibility if a piece of legislation is found to be at odds with the Convention. This signals to Parliament that the law should be amended, but does not change the law itself.

UK courts must take into account the case law from the ECHR but are not bound to follow it slavishly. This allows for a degree of flexibility and enables the UK Supreme Court to diverge from Strasbourg's jurisprudence under certain circumstances, especially where UK constitutional principles or contexts are at stake.

UK Supreme Court and CJEU
The relationship between the UK courts and the CJEU has significantly altered following Brexit. The European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 marked a pivotal shift, stipulating that UK courts are not bound by any decisions the CJEU makes after the Brexit transition period (post-11pm on 31 December 2020).

UK courts may consider CJEU decisions made before the end of the transition period as part of retained EU law, but they are not obligated to follow them. The Supreme Court and other appellate courts have the discretion to depart from this body of case law, applying the same criteria they use for reconsidering their own precedents.

The ability of UK courts to refer questions of EU law to the CJEU for a preliminary ruling has been removed, except in specific circumstances related to the interpretation of the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement, particularly concerning citizens' rights.

In summary, the Supreme Court of the UK maintains a nuanced relationship with both the ECtHR and the CJEU. It is bound by the Human Rights Act to interpret domestic laws in a way that is compatible with the ECHR, reflecting a direct influence of European human rights jurisprudence on UK law. However, following Brexit, the Supreme Court's relationship with the CJEU has been fundamentally altered, with a move towards legal autonomy from EU law while retaining the ability to consider CJEU precedents made before the end of 2020.
Back to blog

UOL Case Bank

Upon joining, you become a valuable UOL student and gain instant access to over 2,100 case summaries. UOL Case Bank is constantly expanding. Speed up your revision with us now.

Subscribe Now

Where are our students from?

Yale University
Council of Europe
Baker Mckenzie 
University of Chicago
Columbia University
New York University
University of Michigan 
INSEAD
University College London (UCL)
London School of Economics (LSE)
King’s College London (KCL)
University of London
University of Manchester
University of Zurich
University of York
Brandeis University
University of Exeter
University of Sheffield
Boston University
University of Washington
University of Leeds
University of Law
Royal Holloway, University of London 
Birkbeck, University of London
SOAS, University of London
University of Kent
University of Hull
Queen’s University Belfast
Toronto Metropolitan University
Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
University of Buckingham

  • Criminal Practice

    Diagrams and Charts

    Our carefully designed diagrams and charts will guide you through complex legal issues.

  • Criminal Law

    Clear and Succinct Definitions

    Key concepts are concisely defined to help you understand legal topics quickly.

  • Property Law

    Statutory Provisions

    Statutory provisions are provided side by side with legal concepts to help you swiftly locate the relevant legislation.

  • Public Law

    Case Summaries

    We have summarised important cases for you so that you don't need to read long and boring cases.

  • Evidence

    Rules and Exceptions

    Rules and exceptions are clearly listed so that you know when a rule applies and when it doesn't.

  • Company Law

    Terminology

    Legal terms and key concepts are explained at the beginning of each chapter to help you learn efficiently.

  • Case Law

    Case law is provided side by side with legal concepts so that you know how legal principles and precedents were established.

  • Law Exam Guide

    Law Essay Guide

    You will learn essential law exam skills and essay writing techniques that are not taught in class.

  • Law Exam Guide

    Problem Question Guide

    We will show you how to answer problem questions step by step to achieve first-class results.

  • Conflict of Laws

    Structured Explanations

    Complex legal concepts are broken down into concise and digestible bullet point explanations.

  • Legal System and Method

    Legal Research

    You will learn legal research techniques with our study guide and become a proficient legal researcher.

  • Jurisprudence and Legal Theory

    Exam-focused

    All essential concepts, principles, and case law are included so that you can answer exam questions quickly.