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Soering after 25 years

William Schabas
Professor William Schabas

Ground-breaking case still resonates today

A quarter of a century ago, the European Court of Human Rights presided over a ruling that would become a defining moment in the case law of the Court.

The 1989 decision on the fate of Jens Soering, a German national accused of murdering two people in the USA, came to define the scope and reach of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights – a judgment that continues to impact upon cases today.

By ruling that the "death row phenomenon" Soering would face if he was deported from the UK to the USA constituted "inhuman and degrading treatment", the Court set a precedent for more recent cases, such as that of the radical cleric Abu Hamza.

Appropriately, this historic event was marked by Middlesex University in June during a one-day conference, 'Soering after 25 years', held at Gray's Inn, London.

Several of the School of Law's human rights specialists were joined by other practitioners, international lawyers and several participants in the original case to discuss the ramifications of the Soering ruling over three engrossing sessions.

Among them were Stefan Trechsel, a member of the European Commission of Human Rights at the time; Soering's defence lawyer, Colin Nicholls QC; Sir Michael Wood, counsel to the British government in the case; Sir Nigel Rodley, who acted for Amnesty International; and Judge Paul Mahoney, the Court's UK judge, who was a lawyer within the Court's registry in 1989.

Nadia Bernaz
Dr Nadia Bernaz

They contributed to the first session chaired by Professor William Schabas – himself one of the world's most respected authorities in the field of international criminal and human rights law – which outlined the case itself.

In the second, the lasting impact of the case was discussed by another distinguished panel of speakers, including Phil Shiner, who leads the team at Public Interest Lawyers.

Professor Schabas then sat on the panel for the third and final session on capital punishment, alongside his Middlesex colleague Dr Nadia Bernaz – a specialist in public international law, human rights and international criminal law.

Commenting on the importance of the case, Dr Bernaz said: "The Soering ruling is one of the top ten decisions of the European Court of Human Rights.

"Twenty-five years down the line, human rights lawyers from across the world are still relying on its key findings and there is no end in sight."

The leading role Middlesex academics played on the day underscores the School of Law's standing in the area of human rights, with the European Human Rights Advocacy Centre at the forefront.

"With several experts on the death penalty in international law within its ranks, the School of Law was ideally placed to host the celebration," Dr Bernaz added.

Professor Schabas, meanwhile, highlighted the quality of the special guests who attended.

"It was a real blue-ribbon panel of experts and a great distinction for Middlesex that we were able to attract them," he said.

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