EU charter will undermine British judges, sceptics warn

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The Independent Online

Europe's new charter of fundamental rights provoked an eve-of-summit political storm last night when a minister said it could be used by the European Court of Justice to prepare its judgments.

Europe's new charter of fundamental rights provoked an eve-of-summit political storm last night when a minister said it could be used by the European Court of Justice to prepare its judgments.

The comments were seized on by Eurosceptics, who have long argued that the charter will strengthen the power of European judges at the expense of their British counterparts, whatever its status.

A draft of the charter, designed to spell out the rights of the European public in a comprehensible form, is due to be debated by Tony Blair and other EU leaders tomorrow at a summit in Biarritz. Earlier this year, the prime minister won a political agreement that the charter will not be incorporated into the EU's treaty, and therefore cannot be legally binding.

The draft text itself enshrines entitlements which range from a right to life to a right to strike and has been agreed after lengthy debate by a convention of European and national politicians.

The Europe minister, Keith Vaz, re-awakened the controversy by conceding that the European Court will be able refer to the contents of the charter when ruling on cases, including those referred from Britain.

"It is the case that all courts will draw upon and look at any documents that have ever been produced," Mr Vaz told BBC Radio 4's World at One.

Francis Maude, shadow foreign secretary, said: "For the Government to pretend the charter will not interfere in our national laws is highly misleading."