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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Question time for Attorney General Dominic Grieve

Question time for Attorney General Dominic Grieve

Since 12 May 2010 Dominic Grieve, QC, MP, has been the Attorney General. The role of the AG is to provide legal advice to the government. His predecessor was Baroness Scotland, PC, QC, and she represented the UK at the Interlaken Conference 18-19 February 2010, which was attended by representatives from all the 47 Member States of the Council of Europe. At the end of the Interlaken Conference the delegates signed up to and adopted the resolutions contained in the Interlaken Declaration. Baroness Scotland's statement is reported in full below.

United Kingdom: Lady Patricia Scotland

Attorney General

"Many delegations have stressed the need for both states and the Court to respect subsidiarity. I agree.

States, of course, have the primary responsibility for securing the Convention rights. We must all ensure that we implement the Convention in full, and we must empower our courts to grant effective remedies for any breach.

When states discharge this duty, however, the Court has a corresponding obligation of its own. It must never let itself become a court of fourth instance. The Court must exercise restraint where the domestic courts have fully and properly applied the Convention. It is only then that the Court will be able to focus its efforts where it will have the greatest impact, and best fulfil its role as the ultimate guarantor of human rights in Europe. Hopeless applications to the Court serve no one’s interest. We must therefore encourage those who would apply to the Court, and those who advise them, also to show restraint. Recourse to Strasbourg should be the last resort. We need to find ways to reduce the 90% of applications that are clearly inadmissible: filtering them is one response on which we will work, but it is not the only issue we will have to explore if we are to find a lasting solution.

Many speakers have spoken about the importance of developing the dialogue between the Strasbourg Court and national courts. Put simply, the Strasbourg Court must command the respect of national courts.

To achieve this:

- the judges we nominate to the Strasbourg Court must be the very best;
- the judgments of the Court must be clear and well reasoned;
- and the Court needs to follow a consistent line of precedent. Effective national implementation of the Convention and legal certainty both depend on it.

The Declaration that we are adopting today sets out an Action Plan containing timelines for reforms. We will all need to stay as engaged as we are today to make reform a reality. The United Kingdom is wholeheartedly committed to the reform process, and will play its full part in taking it forward, especially during its forthcoming chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers.

We must be clear about the objective of this reform process. We will have achieved our aim when the Court’s backlog has been cleared, and when there is equilibrium between the rates at which applications are received and disposed of by the Court. We should clearly measure the impact of all reforms against this objective. Furthermore, any reform we make to strengthen the Court or address its backlog must not compromise the Court’s independence, and must of course be affordable.

The reforms we are discussing today are part of the broader reform process underway in the Council of Europe. The organisation should emerge from this process stronger, more focussed, and better able to use the resources at its disposal to have the greatest possible impact in its core areas of human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

In this context, the United Kingdom strongly welcomes the entry into force at last of Protocol No. 14 to the Convention. This will be a positive step towards strengthening the Court and enabling it to deal more effectively with its caseload. However, important though Protocol No. 14 is, it will not be sufficient to resolve the challenges facing the Court. It is therefore vital that we continue to develop a far-reaching and effective reform programme.

Even before Protocol No. 14 comes into force, however, I am pleased to see that the Court is making more extensive use of the existing admissibility criteria to reject cases that raise only minor issues. I welcome in particular the recent admissibility decision in the case of Bock v. Germany, in which the Court disposed of such a case as an abuse of the right of individual application.

Looking further at the Court’s existing procedures, there is also scope for the introduction of a genuinely expedited process in particular cases in which speed is of the essence. For example, in cases where there are very large numbers of applications relating to the same issue, or where Rule 39 measures are in place, it would be very helpful if the Court could reach a decision more quickly in order to increase certainty for both applicants and states.

Protocol No. 14 also provides for the accession of the European Union to the Convention. This is a step that the United Kingdom supports, as it will be important to close the gap in the protection of human rights before the Court where actions are attributable to the European Union instead of the existing member states. We look forward to working out in negotiations in Strasbourg the practical implications of the European Union’s accession, and hope strongly that we can avoid all unnecessary complication. It will be important in particular to distinguish clearly between the rights and obligations that are part of accession to the Convention itself, and those which only arise through full membership of the Council of Europe. Furthermore, we will need to ensure that accession has the least possible negative impact on the effective functioning and resources of the Court.

The Declaration that we are adopting today calls upon the States Parties to commit themselves to ensuring review of the implementation of the previous recommendations adopted by the Committee of Ministers. The United Kingdom accepts this commitment, and will proceed to undertake this review at the national level, looking for assistance to our national human rights institutions. We call upon other member states to do likewise in a spirit of honest reflection and self-examination.

The Declaration also calls for a review of the mechanism for the supervision of the execution of judgments. Important work has been done by the Committee of Ministers to ensure the effective implementation of judgments, and we welcome the clear commitment to increasing the efficiency of that process. However, we remain aware of the scale of the challenge: over 6 000 cases are currently before the Committee of Ministers for scrutiny, and we are concerned to ensure that the approach to implementation remains effective and sustainable. In order to ensure that the mechanism for supervising the implementation of judgments is as robust and efficient as possible, we would encourage a full review in the longer term of the system of execution of Court judgments and its supervision by the Committee of Ministers.

The Convention system and the Court, and of course the right of individual petition, are too precious to lose. We can and we must make them work. The action plan we are adopting today gives us a way to do this, and I know we can succeed".

My question to Dominic Grieve is 'What (if any) advice have you provided to the government in relation to fully complying with Hirst v UK (No2)?'.

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