Euro-sceptics back call to curb court's powers

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The Independent Online

Political Correspondent

Most Conservative MPs want the Government to act to curb the power of the European Court of Justice, the supreme legal authority of the European Union, according to a Harris poll for the Independent.

The poll suggests that demands for reforms to the court set out by the right-winger John Redwood yesterday have the overwhelming backing of Tory MPs. Of the 68 Tory MPs interviewed, 58 agreed the court "currently exerts too much power on UK law". Most Labour MPs - 62 out of 80 - disagreed.

Mr Redwood, who challenged John Major for the Conservative Party leadership last year, set out the Tory Euro-sceptics' demands for the renegotiation of the Maastricht treaty, which begins next month.

Mr Redwood published a document at a Westminster news conference listing proposals for inclusion in the Government's promised White Paper setting out its position for the "Maastricht II" talks.

Top of the list is a demand that the Government seeks treaty amendments to trim the powers of the European Court - which has infuriated Tory MPs with judgments which appear to extend European law. The court's reputation has also been affected by decisions of the European Court of Human Rights, which is not an EU institution, such as that against the killing of IRA terrorists by the SAS in Gibraltar.

Mr Redwood proposes that the European Court of Justice should deliberate in public and that dissenting judgments should be published. More significantly, he says that a member state should be able to refer decisions of the court to the Council of Ministers - representatives of all 15 governments - if it believes the ruling "reinterprets" European law.

David Davis, a Foreign Office minister, has criticised the lack of a system of appeals against court rulings, and suggested a time limit on the retrospective effect of its decisions. A Foreign Office spokeswoman said yesterday that she could not anticipate the contents of the White Paper, but "we have been giving further thought to the issue of the court".