Council of Europe’. 42 This was the model adopted, with implementation of court judgments still the responsibility of each government. When the CoE expanded rapidly in the 1990s after the fall of the Berlin Wall, as related in my anthology lecture on the origins of the ECHR, Churchill’s initial ambition, which must have seemed fanciful at the time, appeared to have materialized:

We must try . . . to make the Council of Europe . . . into a really effective League . . . the Council, when created, must eventually embrace the whole of Europe and all the main branches of the European family must some day be partners in it. 43

Bevin also proclaimed his strong personal support for the project over time: ‘The formulation of this Convention is a positive achievement by the Council of Europe of the fi rst importance and I hope it will be possible for a signature to take place’ imminently, he declared in a telegram on 27 October 1950. Eight days later, on 4 November, thirteen states, including the UK, signed up to the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (to give it its full title) in the Great Hall of the Palazzo Barberini in Rome. On 8 March 1951 the UK became the very fi rst member of the Council of Europe to ratify the ECHR, which fi nally came into force on 3 September 1953. 44

For all its bluster and prevarications, Britain had been at the forefront of every step of this journey to the world’s fi rst legally enforceable treaty based on the universal principles in the UDHR: from the establishment of the Council of Europe to the draft of the ECHR and fi nally as an initial signatory and the fi rst to ratify. Should the UK withdraw under a future Conservative government it would be in the lead once again – only this time regarding the ECHR’s almost certain demise. This is a subject to which I will return at the end of this section. First, how did the UK – the common law country which abhorred bills of rights – come to introduce the Human Rights Act, nearly fi fty years after signing the ECHR?