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These pages apply mainly to the United Kingdom.

Council of Europe

The Council of Europe (www.coe.int) is an intergovernmental organisation with various aims including the promotion of human rights.  It is distinct from the European Union. There is a Disability section (link to www.coe.int) on its website. Two of its conventions are important in the present context, the main one being the ECHR.

For the Council of Europe generally, see Council of Europe on Wikipedia.

European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR)

As regards UK law, the ECHR is by far the most important Convention from the Council of Europe. The Human Rights Act 1998 enables UK domestic courts to apply the ECHR directly. 

There is a separate section of this website dealing with the ECHR: see European Convention, and Human Rights Act 1998.

European Social Charter

There is a 1961 charter which is intended to be progressively replaced by a revised 1996 charter. The UK has ratified the 1961 charter but (as at 2011) not the revised one. The charter covers work and various other social issues. There are some articles of the 1961 charter which have not been accepted by the UK - see country report linked below.

The 1961 version of the charter ratified by the UK is rather old-fashioned with regard to disability. Right 15 (expanded on in Part II of the Charter) says that disabled persons have the right to vocational training, rehabilitation and resettlement.

Examples from the revised 1996 charter (to which the UK is not signed up) include rights of persons with disabilities to independence, social integration and participation in the life of the community (Article 15), and a right to dignity at work (Article 26). Article E in Part V is a non-discrimination clause.

Monitoring is by the European Committee on Social Rights (link to coe.int). Its views on the interpretation of the charter can be found partly in its reports on individual countries. Its website includes country reports and case law..

Unlike the European Convention on Human Rights (above), an individual cannot bring a complaint.  Monitoring is based on reports from individual countries and non-governmental organisations. Optionally a State may agree that trade unions, employers organisations and other organisations can make a complaint that the State is not complying with the Charter. However, the UK has not opted to allow this.  

Links on European Social Charter


Non-binding recommendations specifically on disability are at www.coe.int/t/dg3/health/recommendations_en.asp#Disabilities The recommendations may be helpful in interpreting the two binding instruments above. For example paragraph 2.2 of the 2006 recommendation - 'Paradigm shift from patient to citizen' - speaks of the move "from the old medical model of disability to the social and human rights based model."


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© Allan Tyrer 2001-2012
Last updated: 2nd January 2012