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Sunday, February 20, 2011

UK government to press for European Court reform

UK government to press for European Court reform

The government is to press for the European Court of Human Rights to be reformed, says the justice secretary.

Ken Clarke: There is a "good case for reforming the court"

Ken Clarke said the government would press for changes to the way the court operated when the UK takes over the chairmanship of the Council of Europe.

Speaking on the Andrew Marr show, he said the European Convention of Human Rights would continue to be adhered.

Last week it was announced that a commission would be set up to examine a possible British Bill of Rights.

The commission, which will be jointly chaired by Mr Clarke and Deputy Leader Nick Clegg, will look at whether the UK Bill of Rights could overrule the European Convention of Human Rights.

"The government's policy is to investigate a case for a British Bill of Rights and whether that could improve the relationship between Strasbourg and here," said Mr Clarke.
'Improve relationship'

The move follows a row over votes for prisoners and the sex offenders register.

The European Court of Human Rights has decreed that it is illegal for prisoners to be refused the vote.

In response, MPs voted to keep the ban however the House of Commons' decision is not binding, but could put pressure on ministers to go against the Strasbourg court's decision.

The Supreme Court has recently ruled that sex offenders in England and Wales could appeal against having to register with the police of life.

The UK court ruled that the lack of a review was incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

"We are considering the debate we had in the House of Commons and considering what the legal position is but everybody - the prime minister and everybody else - has said we will of course comply with the law," said Mr Clarke.

"It would be startling if we had a British government which said we aren't going to comply with legal judgements."
'Range of opinions'

But the justice secretary said questions remained over the way the European Court behaved and should be addressed.

He said: "How far does it go into things which legislators and national courts can determine? Are we certain that the court operates properly - it's got an enormous number of judges - could it handle its case load quicker?"

He said when the UK gets the chairmanship in November, it would take the lead in reforming the court and establishing the relationship between national courts, national parliaments and the European Court.

However, Mr Clarke said, there was no question of Britain withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights.

He said: "We're a coalition government with a range of opinions and we have a clearly negotiated policy.

"Only the Greek colonels have ever repudiated the convention on human rights".

Comment: The Court is already undergoing reforms since February 2010. Any reforms suggested by the UK would have to be passed by the other 46 Member States, and that is unlikely to happen. In any event, the UK may not get chairmanship unless it first fully complies with the Prisoners Votes Case. The UK could have its vote suspended on 8 March.

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