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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Europe is out of kilter on human rights cases

Europe is out of kilter on human rights cases

By Kenneth Clarke, Published on March 31, 2012

HUMAN rights in Europe and beyond need to be protected. In a month’s time the governments of the 47 members of the Council of Europe, the international steward of fundamental freedoms, will be asked to agree vital reforms that could address longstanding weaknesses in the shelter they afford 800 million people.

As one of the original architects of the European Convention of Human Rights, and currently the Chair of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, the UK strongly believes in its values. We have witnessed at first hand how, through the European Court of Human Rights, it has helped to promote the rule of law in Europe, and transform the lives of many Europeans. Those who might question its importance need only to look at recent events in Libya, and now Syria, to see brutality and oppression are not in the past – nor that basic human freedoms retain an enduring, universal appeal.

Yet the protection of human rights is being hampered by problems in how they are given effect. The UK wants to put new momentum behind efforts to tackle a key challenge: the huge backlog of cases in the Court in Strasbourg. This now stands at over 150,000 with an average delay of 5 years, and reflects a system in which the balance of responsibilities is out of kilter. The Court is being asked to spread itself too thinly, and the member states are not pulling their weight.

The Court itself has recognised the backlog and is making progress in addressing part of it, but even if current reforms succeed, an estimated 1,000 cases per year more than the Court is capable of handling would still be found to need a reasoned judgement.

This unsustainably growing queue is not a trivial matter. It means that significant, urgent cases – for example, those involving individuals subject to unfair trial or denied free speech – will continue to be delayed. The problem amounts to something of an existential crisis for the Convention system which now has jurisdiction of over 800 million people.

The best way to fix this problem is to ensure that the component parts of the system deliver on their responsibilities. If Member States genuinely uphold the convention domestically, this will begin to reduce the pressure on the Court. So we propose that governments do more to implement the Convention themselves, through introducing national human rights institutions, domestic legislation enshrining the Convention, and better human rights training for civil servants and judges.

As Member States do more, so the Court needs to be able to say no to cases which it feels do not require consideration at international level. We therefore propose to enshrine within the Convention itself the ability for the Court to refuse cases which have already been fairly decided by national courts in a way which accords with the Convention. This would not reduce the right of individuals to apply to have their case heard in Strasbourg. The Court would continue to decide which cases are admissible, and all Member States would continue to be held accountable, but this would give the Court a vital extra tool with which to focus its caseload on the most serious abuses.

These common sense reforms are based on the programmes agreed by all 47 member states at Izmir and Interlaken, and on work the Court itself has begun. They include proposals brought forward by other member states. As Chair, the UK is committed to securing consensus on reforms which, taken together, will strengthen the Court’s ability to bring speedy justice to the victims of serious human rights abuses, protect the vital right of individual petition, and ensure that the Court continues to hold all Member States to account. The goal is a Court able to focus swiftly on the most serious violations of human rights, unencumbered by an endless backlog.

We do not underestimate the challenge facing the 47 countries in achieving a consensus on these proposals. But the reforms will ensure that institutions which we have established to guard against over-bearing governments and abuse of human rights are modern, effective and focus on the most serious cases. We urge all governments to back them. The result will be stronger rights, more easily enforced, more widely respected.

Kenneth Clarke is Britain’s Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

Comment: Given that the UK is a human rights violator, for example, Hirst v UK (No2) it is hypocritical of Kenneth Clarke to speak about the Court's backlog of cases when as a result of the UK ignoring complying with Hirst No2 there are now 3,500 more prisoners cases added to this backlog!

1 comment:

SteelMagnolia said...

John first of all looking in to see how you are healthwise...and second, typical woman always wants something. Please sign the petition investigating McCann Fund.

God Bless xx