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Secretary's report for the UK Section's Annual General Meeting 2014

Our activities over the past year reflected major developments related to the UK’s relations with the rest of Europe and the storms about media regulation after the phone hacking scandal as well as the Edward Snowden revelations about mass surveillance by the British and US intelligence services.

Among the highlights of our monthly lunchtime meetings with newsmakers were those with European Council President Hermann van Rompuy’s adviser Richard Corbett and UK Europe Minister David Lidington, who gave their assessments of the outlook for the UK’s place in Europe following Prime Minister David Cameron’s important announcement that if he wins the 2015 general election he would stage a referendum on the UK’s EU membership after a renegotiation of the terms of membership, to be held by the end of 2017. The former President of the European Court of Human Rights, Sir Nicolas Bratza, who is now president of the British Institute of Human Rights, gave us his positive account of the recent achievements of the court, both in terms of jurisprudence and reforms of procedures to speed up its work and reduce the backlog of cases. He refuted many of the loud criticisms of the Strasbourg court and the UK Human Rights Act (which transposes the European Convention on Human Rights into British law), against the background of calls by some senior Conservative politicians for the UK to introduce its own Bill of Rights, or even withdraw from the Convention. We were also fortunate, given all the current focus on mass surveillance, that another of our guest speakers  was Sir Malcolm Rifkind MP, Chairman of Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee.

The UK Section is pleased to have maintained its near-record membership level of 42 members in 2013. The officers of the Committee were: Chairman: William Horsley, Secretary: Margaret Hughes, and Treasurer: Mike Springate. Though not part of the elected Committee, Celia Hampton is the AEJ-UK Website Manager and David Lennon is the Events Director. David is also an international Vice-President of the AEJ.



We had a good turnout at our regular lunchtime meetings in 2013, which I hope will continue this year. Our meetings in 2013 were held with the following guest speakers:

Professor Stephen Tsang, Professor of Chinese Studies, Director of the China Policy Institute, Nottingham University

Sir Malcom Rifkind MP, Chairman of Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee

Bill Emmott, Former editor of The Economist, author of "Good Italy, Bad Italy"

Rt Hon David Lidington MP, UK Minister for Europe

Sir Nicolas Bratza, Former President of the European Court of Human Rights, Chairman of the British Institute of Human Rights

Dr Richard Corbett, Member of the cabinet of Herman van Rompuy, President of the European Council

HE Ivan Grdešić, Croatia's Ambassador to the UK

Emma Reynolds MP, Shadow Minister for Europe

Dr Peter Duncan, Senior Lecturer on Contemporary Russia, UCL


2014 meetings

After today’s meeting with Gus Hosein, Executive Director of Privacy International, our next speaker on February 21 will be Dr Ian Brown, Associate Director of the Cyber Security Centre at Oxford University. At our EP election special meeting on March 14 our guest speakers will be Derk Jan Eppink, retiring Conservatives and Reformists Group MEP for Brussels, and Simon Hix, Professor of European and Comparative Politics at the LSE.



Other highlights

The UK Section chairman and AEJ Media Freedom Representative, William Horsley, sent a message of congratulation to the Council of Europe in September 2013 on the 60th anniversary of the European Convention on Human Rights. He pointed out that various past rulings of the Court of Human Rights have helped Britain (as well as other member states) to improve its patchy human rights record on issues where political or popular opinion had seemed implacably opposed to change, like banning corporal punishment and sweeping stop and search powers for the police, as well as enshrining vital protections for press freedom in law.

He also presented a paper on fighting impunity for crimes of violence against journalists at UNESCO’s World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) meeting, held in Costa Rica on May 2-4. And In London, the UK section supported the National Union of Journalists’ (NUJ) major WPFD event which brought together campaigners for free speech and media rights to highlight the oppression of journalists in Turkey, where hundreds of journalists are being persecuted for doing their jobs. The event was part of a campaign organised by the European Federation of Journalists.

And, if you haven’t done so already, you should sign up for the members only section of and, of course, visit the UK website, which Celia regularly updates.

As I’ve mentioned before, the European Parliament is also keen for our members to subscribe to their event newsletter by entering your email address on their website to give you automatic information about events that they’re planning.

Margaret Hughes, Secretary AEJ UK

January 27, 2014