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Friday, April 15, 2011

UK in sour grapes attack upon ECtHR judges

UK in sour grapes attack upon ECtHR judges

The European court of secrecy: Officials refuse to name judges who rejected British appeal over giving prisoners the vote

By Jack Doyle
Last updated at 8:44 AM on 15th April 2011

Judge: President of the court Jean-Paul Costa

The European Court of Human Rights was plunged into a ‘secret justice’ row last night after it refused to name the judges who rejected Britain’s appeal against prisoner votes.

A spokesman for the Strasbourg court said the names constituted ‘confidential information’ which would not be made public.

Critics said the decision went against cherished principles of open justice, and ‘added insult to injury’.

On Tuesday the court released a short statement saying it had rejected a plea by ministers that the judges reconsider their demand for the 140-year ban on prisoners voting to be overturned.

It said five judges, sitting as a panel of the court’s final appeal body, the Grand Chamber, decided the case did not even merit a full hearing as it was not a ‘serious issue of general importance’.

But it did not detail the full reasons for the ruling, or name the judges who threw the case out.

When asked by the Mail which of the court’s 47 judges were involved, the court refused to say, claiming it was ‘established practice’ that names of panel judges were not published.

A court spokesman said: ‘That’s something that we cannot say, we do not say. It’s confidential information. It’s just not information that we hand out. When a full judgment is made public the judges are publicly known, but any decision by a panel is not.’

After a further request, the court issued a written statement saying: ‘It is a matter of established practice that the panel of five judges – called upon to consider Grand Chamber referral requests – is set up on a purely internal basis and without its composition being made public.’

The decision provoked a furious reaction from MPs opposed to votes for prisoners. Lawyers said the refusal to name the judges flew in the face of principles of open justice.

European Court of Human Rights, above. Critics said the decision went against cherished principles of open justice

The court has been heavily criticised because its judges – many of whom are political appointees – do not even have to have served as judges in their homeland.

Each member of the Council of Europe has one judge on the court, irrespective of the size of their population. That means Liechtenstein, San Marino, Monaco and Andorra each have one judge, the same number as Britain, France and Germany.

Tory MP for Esher and Walton Dominic Raab, who took a major role in the Commons vote against prisoner votes, said: ‘The Strasbourg court dismissed the UK appeal without a hearing or any reasons, and now we’re told it is a secret who took that arbitrary decision. It adds insult to injury – the lack of transparency only compounds the lack of accountability.’

Ministers had hoped the Grand Chamber would reconsider its position in light of the overwhelming vote against prisoner votes in the Commons.

In earlier rulings the court had pointed to the fact that Parliament had not made clear its view on the issue.

However, in February MPs voted by 234 votes to 22 to continue the historic ban on inmates taking part in elections.

The motion they passed said convicted criminals should be denied the franchise because they had ‘broken their contract with society’.

Court rules say the panel of the Grand Chamber should include the President of the Court, currently Jean-Paul Costa, or the Vice President if he is not available.

Two other senior judges known as Presidents of Section, who preside over particular areas of law, sit on the panel by rotation.

The two remaining judges are elected by their colleagues to sit on the panel for six-month periods.

A series of rulings by the court have insisted a blanket ban on prisoner votes is unlawful. It first ruled on the issue in 2004 in a case brought by convicted killer John Hirst.

The most recent appeal was over the case of two prisoners, named as Robert Greens and MT, who were awarded £4,230 in costs and expenses for their loss of voting rights last November.

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