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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

'No crisis' about foreign judges

'No crisis' about foreign judges

There is no "great constitutional crisis about foreign judges trying to ride roughshod over British law", a justice minister involved in talks to reform Europe's human rights court said today.

Lord McNally's comments come ahead of a meeting of the 47 member nations of the Council of Europe in Brighton tomorrow at which the Government hopes to secure a deal on reforms that will see the Strasbourg-based court meddle less in British affairs.

It follows David Cameron's claim in January that the court's work defending human freedom and dignity was being put "under threat" due to public unease over some of its decisions.

The Prime Minister warned that the court risked undermining its own reputation by "going over national decisions where it does not need to".

And he insisted that there was "credible democratic anxiety" that insufficient account was being taken of the decisions of national parliaments on issues such as prisoners' votes.

But on the eve of the key conference where the Brighton declaration is expected to be signed, Lord McNally said: "I don't believe we've got some great constitutional crisis about foreign judges trying to ride roughshod over British law or British processes."

Speaking at the Arts and Humanities Research Council conference on human rights in central London, he said the court needs to change because there is a danger of it acting as a "convenient safety net" for under-performing states.

The Liberal Democrat peer said national responsibility for human rights runs through draft plans for reform "like the letters through a stick of Brighton rock".

The Brighton declaration would ensure there was "an onus at national level" for them to consider all human rights implications, he said.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) "cannot secure the rights and freedoms of 800 million people and, what is more, we should not even ask them to try", he said.

Instead, the council should ensure that human rights obligations "are properly addressed at a national level".

But he denied that foreign judges were simply trying to overrule British courts.

The draft declaration "leaves the important decisions for Strasbourg and gets the balance right", he said.

Lord McNally also said the European court was still receiving more applications than it could handle, with a backlog of more than 150,000 cases.

Just 45,000 cases were presented to the court in its first 40 years, but in 2010 alone it was asked to consider 61,300 applications.

In future it should "focus on cases which particularly require the attention of an international court", he said.

He added that the draft declaration was "pretty much there" and "starts with national implementation" of the European Convention on Human Rights and how it may be implemented more effectively by states.


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