Page 7 Introduction The handbook “The European Convention on Human Rights and Policing” is published in the framework of the Joint Programme between the European Union and the Council of Europe entitled “Reinforcing the fight against ill-treatment and impunity”, as part of the efforts to enhance the professionalism of police and in view of disseminating Council of Europe standards on policing. The main purposes of the police in a democratic society governed by the rule of law are: ffto maintain public tranquillity and law and order in society; ffto protect and respect the individual’s fundamental rights and freedoms as enshrined, in particular, in the European Convention on Human Rights; ffto prevent and combat crime; ffto detect crime; ffto provide assistance and service functions to the public. 1 In the interest of independent, impartial and effective delivery of policing services, and to protect against political interference, the police are granted a wide degree of discretion in the performance of their duties. For the purpose of performing their duties, the law provides the police with coercive powers and the police may use reasonable force when lawfully exercising their powers. In recent decades, as scientific and technological knowledge have advanced, the special powers available to the police for the purpose of performing their duties have increased, together with their capacity to intrude in people’s lives and interfere with individual human rights. 2 1 Recommendation Rec(2001)10 of the Committee of Ministers to member states on the European Code of Police Ethics at Article I.1. 2 Opinion CommDH(2009)4 of the Commissioner for Human Rights concerning Independent and Effective Determination of Complaints against the Police at paragraphs 15-17.
The European Convention on Human Rights and Policing Page 8 As a response to the actual abuses of human rights by the police, which have taken place in the past and, unfortunately, continue to occur at present and in different countries, one of the key underlying principles of the Council of Europe in regard to policing is that it should have as its fundamental objective the protection of human rights. There is no conflict between effective policing and human rights protection. On the contrary, the road to one passes through the other. Considering that police activities to a large extent are performed in close contact with the public, police efficiency is dependent on public support. At the same time, public confidence in the police and its support are closely related to the attitude and behaviour of members of the police towards the public, in particular their respect for the human dignity and fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual. The European Convention on Human Rights sets out a comprehensive framework governing the operational work of police services, compliance with which will ensure that the public supports them. Much of the case law of the European Court of Human Rights can be used in practice to improve the degree of human rights protection in the work of the police. In particular, the Court has constantly reiterated that Article 3 of the Convention enshrines one of the most fundamental values of democratic societies. Even in the most difficult circumstances, such as the fight against terrorism and organised crime, the Convention prohibits in absolute terms torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Unlike most clauses of the Convention, Article 3 allows no exception and no derogation from it is permissible, even in the event of a public emergency threatening the life of the nation. 3 Adherence to the rule of law applies to the police in the same way that it applies to every member of the public. There may be no attempt to conceal, excuse or justify the unlawful exercise of coercive or intrusive powers by a police officer by reference to his or her lawful recourse to coercive and intrusive powers. Police ethics and adherence to professional standards serve to ensure that the delivery of police services is of the highest quality. There can be no police impunity for ill-treatment or misconduct. 4 The handbook was drawn up bearing in mind the European Convention on Human Rights, in the light of the relevant case law of the European Court of Human Rights, as well as the standards of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment 3 Chahal v. United Kingdom, judgment of 15 November 1996. 4 Ibid. at paragraph 18.