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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Kenneth Clarke's speech shows he is not fit for purpose!

Kenneth Clarke's speech shows he is not fit for purpose!

High Level Conference on the Future of the European Court of Human Rights
IZMIR, 26 – 27 April 2011


Rt Hon Kenneth CLARKE QC MP
Secretary of State for Justice
Lord Chancellor

Statement at the Izmir Conference by the Rt Hon Kenneth Clarke QC MP, Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor of the United Kingdom

Mr Chairman, may I begin by repeating the thanks expressed by other delegations for the warm welcome and hospitality that you have given us here in the city of Izmir. Like others who have spoken, I would like to congratulate you on choosing as the topic for this conference the reform of the European Court of Human Rights. Many delegations have today welcomed the progress we have made on Court reform, but also highlighted the urgent need to maintain the momentum that has begun. I would like to echo and reinforce these views.

The British people have an unshakeable belief in individual liberty, freedom, fairness and a sense of what is right. Every day, the news from North Africa and the Middle East reminds us that human rights are integral to our view of the world. People there are fighting for their basic freedoms – freedoms which we in Europe are able to rely on the Convention to protect. The UK remains as committed to the Convention as the day we first ratified it, 60 years ago last month.

But the power of the Convention relies on an effective and efficient Court process which applies human rights consistently and carefully. This includes due respect for the decisions of national courts and of democratic national parliaments. I fear that the Court’s current position and backlog – even with the changes brought about by the Fourteenth Protocol – are unsustainable. Indeed, my fear is that they could threaten the authority of and respect for the Convention itself.

In the opinion of the Government of the United Kingdom, we must find better ways for the Court to focus quickly, efficiently and transparently on the important cases that require its attention. Judges need the time and the means to produce high quality reasoned judgments on the sensitive issues before them. And we must ensure that the best possible candidates become judges of the Court. Steps in this direction will help the Court in its important work: providing binding interpretations of the Convention and intervening on truly significant issues where national courts have failed.

But most fundamentally, the British government thinks that we need to reaffirm that it is individual States and their courts which have primary responsibility for implementing the Convention and granting effective remedies for any violation. In this way, we ensure that our citizens can take full ownership of their rights.

This boundary is of paramount importance. If the Strasbourg Court is too ready to substitute its own judgment for that of national parliaments and courts that have through their own processes complied with the Convention, it risks turning the tide of public opinion against the concept of international standards of human rights, and risks turning public opinion against the Convention itself. In Britain, it is going to be really quite difficult to persuade Parliament to pass legislation to comply with the Court’s judgment on vote for prisoners. This is regarded by our Parliament as a domestic political issue, on which there are valid arguments on both sides.

These concerns are deeply held by the United Kingdom Government, and we have heard the same concerns expressed by other delegations who have spoken already. For this reason, the United Kingdom is going to dedicate its forthcoming chairmanship to delivering on the desire of colleagues around this table for Court reform. We want to see a strong and effective Court that is respected by the people of Europe and around the world. That requires urgent and real reform to how it operates. This must be our shared priority in the coming months.

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