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Thursday, October 06, 2011

Radical reform of human rights court will still not prevent clashes with Europe

Radical reform of human rights court will still not prevent clashes with Europe

Radical reform of the European Court of Human Rights will still fail to prevent a prisoner voting-style row, the Government’s own experts signalled yesterday.

A special commission set up by David Cameron to examine human rights laws and the relationship between the UK and Europe yesterday made a series of recommendations on how to reform the controversial court.

Its influence on domestic laws and judgments has led to growing anger and concern, especially its ruling that a blanket ban on prisoners voting is illegal.

But initial proposals from the commission made clear that the European court must still hear cases that “raise serious questions” over the interpretation or application of human rights laws.

Critics last night said that while that would stop minor cases going to Europe, broader issues such as the principle of voting rights would still fall under the court.

The commission also signalled that Mr Cameron’s suggestion of replacing the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights could be meaningless as it would still have to give priority to the European Convention on Human Rights.

And it has made no recommendations on how to address deep concerns that the European judges do not take sufficient account of the decisions of UK courts and parliament when making its rulings.

Blair Gibbs, head of crime and justice at the think-tank Policy Exchange said: “We have to reform the European Court but we cannot ignore the fundamental democratic issue that an international court can dictate policy to sovereign governments on what only it decides is a human rights issue.

“Limiting the court to serious cases would be a start, but the current recommendations would not have stopped the prisoner votes ruling, which saw foreign judges overruling our own parliament.

“We must build alliances with other nations who also want to address this issue of sovereignty and the proper scope of the court.”

The Commission on a Bill of Rights was set up earlier this year to examine whether the Human Rights Act should be replaced with a British Bill of Rights.

But its first job was to suggest reforms for the European Court of Human Rights for when the UK takes over the presidency of the Council of Europe in November.

Kenneth Clarke, the Justice Secretary, wants the UK to uses its position to spearhead a radical shake-up of the court.

MPs are furious over a ruling that could force the UK Government to grant prisoners the vote because a blanket ban breaches their rights, despite it being dismissed by domestic judges and parliament.

In its interim recommendations yesterday, the commission said the Government should “vigorously pursue the need for urgent and fundamental reform”.

It said a backlog of 150,000 cases there meant the court was now in an “impossible situation” and “mere tinkering at the edges” will not work.

It said the number of trivial cases sent to the court should be cut, its ability to award compensation restricted and the way judges are appointed overhauled.

But the commission also said the court should “only address a limited number of cases that raise serious questions affecting the interpretation or application of the Convention and serious issues of general importance”.

It also said that “failure to put in place the necessary machinery for compliance (of the Convention) should itself constitute a violation of the Convention”.

That suggests even a Bill of Rights would have to give sufficient deference to the Convention.

The commission said it did not have time to examine the issue of how the court should take in to account the views and decisions of domestic executives but would look at that in the coming months.

However, one source close to it said it was very unlikely that members would be able to agree on any recommendation on how to address that key problem.

Sir Leigh Lewis, the commission's chairman, said: "In the Commission's view the United Kingdom is uniquely well placed to set the ball rolling on fundamental reforms to the European Court of Human Rights, and should do so with a view to achieving the wellbeing and effective functioning of the court over the long term."

Dominic Raab, the Tory MP, said: “I welcome the overall strategy, and it is critical it delivers.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: "Our top priority when we take over the Chairmanship of the Council of Europe in November will be to deliver and build upon the ongoing programme of reform of the European Court of Human Rights. Our plans for this will be informed by the Commission’s advice.”


Barnacle Bill said...

Completely OT but the new look is rather stunning if I may say so John.
I like it.

jailhouselawyer said...

BB: The article is about a month old and for some reason Google Alert only notified me about it yesterday!

The old template did not allow for my blog to fill the screen whereas this one does. None of the Humber Bridge photos I searched for measured 800 pixels wide, but the one in my header is just right. I found others too and will put another one up every so often.