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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Justice Secretary Rules Out Cutting Ties with Strasbourg Court

Justice Secretary Rules Out Cutting Ties with Strasbourg Court

Coalition plans to examine possibility of British Bill of Rights would put the Human Rights Act “in jeopardy” says civil liberties watchdog

By Peter Simmons, Epoch Times Staff, Created: Feb 26, 2011

Some politicians and legal experts have suggested that the Houses of Parliament are becomingly increasingly beholden to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. (Epoch Times)

Critics say they demonstrate how the human rights court in Strasbourg has gained power beyond its original remit, able to trump even the will of the British Parliament.

But although rulings like the prisoners’ right to vote might be making the headlines at present, they are simply old cases, dredged up with little attention to the details or scope of the rulings, says civil liberties watchdog Liberty.

The Justice Secretary Ken Clarke on Sunday ruled out Britain cutting ties with the European Convention on Human Rights, as some have suggested, but said that the coalition government was considering a British Bill of Rights and would press for changes to the way the Strasbourg court is run.

Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti said the coalition's plans for a Bill of Rights would put the Human Rights Act “in jeopardy”.

Two weeks ago, Parliament voted in favour of a motion that in essence said the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) is overstepping the mark, and that the UK should not bend to its ruling on prisoners' rights. The Strasbourg ruling is five years old.

Last week, another ruling by the ECHR which said that those on the sex offender list should have the right to review, was brought to the fore and criticised by the government, keeping up momentum on the topic of the power of the Strasbourg court. This ruling was one year old.

Mrs Chakrabarti in her blog on Monday said that British politicians were “railing against the values and institutions that have long protected liberty and the rule of law at home”.

She dismissed the notion that the court ruling on sex offenders act carried any notion of a threat to sovereignty or the will of Parliament, describing the government's criticism as a “two-fingered salute” to the Supreme Court.

“Did you know that the Supreme Court decision has only moral and persuasive force? Yes, last week’s manufactured controversy about 'pervs and paedos' and 'unelected judges' dictating to our sainted mother of parliaments involves a 'declaration of incompatibility' under the Human Rights Act that both the Government and Parliament are completely free to ignore.”

She said that most worrying was the criticism of the European Court of Human Rights.

“It was labelled a kangaroo court for pointing out that the UK had advanced no coherent rationale for the blanket ban on prisoners voting.

“By ironic coincidence the Government announced its plan for the Protection of Freedoms Bill the next day. In two key areas covered by the Bill – retention of DNA by the police and searches under section 44 of the Terrorism Act – it is judgments of the Strasbourg court that have led to Government action.”

Her remarks chime with those made by Justice Secretary Ken Clarke in the Andrew Marr Show, risking anger from the right of his party by ruling out the possibility of withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights and also noting the age of the rulings.

Describing himself as a moderate, he said he was not from the “hanging and floggingwing of the party”.

In pointing out the age of the rulings, the Justice Secretary couldn’t resist a dig at former Justice Secretary Jack Straw, who was one of two people behind the recent parliamentary motion that defied the Strasbourg ruling on prisoners’ votes.

“For five years Jack did not denounce it, so it's a new conversion.”

Mr Clarke pointed out that the ruling on the sex offenders register was made by the British Supreme Court, not European Court, and was made a year ago.

He also noted that the ruling was accepted in Scotland “without the slightest fuss”.

“The key thing on the sex register is nobody is going to expose the public to any risk from sex offenders and so on. I mean what is unhelpful is to have the press suddenly discovering an old judgement and deciding that sex offenders are going to be let loose on the public without having to stay on the register,” he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.

He also said there was “no question” of the government denouncing the European Convention on Human Rights. “Only the Greek colonels have ever repudiated the Convention on Human Rights,” he said.

But he did say that Britain would try to change the way the European Court of Human Rights is run during its presidency later in the year.

Mr Clarke said the coalition was exploring the idea of a British Bill of Rights.

But Mrs Chakrabarti said that Britain effectively already has a Bill of Rights: the Human Rights Act.

“The coalition’s commission exploring a new British 'Bill of Rights' whets unhealthy appetites. Some want to abandon the convention and Strasbourg system altogether," she said.

"But ironically, many would scrap the Human Rights Act, which in giving British judges jurisdiction over our freedoms, effectively repatriated power to this country. This second group of people, to whom the 'unelected judge' gibes pander, give the game away. The beef is not rule from Europe but the rule of law itself. They will never be satisfied by any credible bill of rights. Nothing good can come of a commission appeasing them and their feeding frenzy. The Human Rights Act is in jeopardy.”

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