Clarke clashes with court chief over rights reforms
Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke clashed with the president of the European Court of Human Rights today as he declared that it would undergo “substantial reforms”.
The changes - outlined in the Brighton declaration due to be formally adopted today - will lead to the Strasbourg-based court handling fewer cases in an attempt to clear a massive backlog, Mr Clarke said.
In an embarrassing move, however, the court’s president Sir Nicolas Bratza pre-empted his announcement by saying that governments should leave the court to decide how it carries out its own work, insisting the reforms would make no change to the type of cases considered.
Today’s declaration came at a time when the Government is at loggerheads with the ECHR over the deportation of radical cleric Abu Qatada.
Human rights’ experts insisted that Prime Minister David Cameron needed European “blood on his hands” in order to appease his own backbenches.
However, today’s watered-down version of the Conservatives’ initial reform proposals failed to impress some of the party’s MPs, who angrily called for a complete withdrawal from the European Convention and the creation of a British Bill of Rights during a Commons debate on the 51-year-old Jordanian.
Mr Clarke said a deal to reform the human rights court had been agreed after a debate amongst the 47 member nations of the Council of Europe in Brighton.
Among the key proposals is a recommendation that the ECHR should reject an application if a national court has already considered a similar one, unless there is a “serious” question about the correct interpretation of the law.
But Sir Nicolas insisted that was already the case.
Acknowledging the court clashed with member states at times over judgments, he added: “It is in the nature of the protection of fundamental rights and the rule of law that sometimes minority interests have to be secured against the view of the majority.”
Mr Clarke retorted: “I won't accuse him of complacency but I am a little less relaxed than Sir Nicolas about the progress being made.”
Sir Nicolas told the council it was essential the court remained independent: ”We are, I have to say, uncomfortable with the idea that governments can in some way dictate to the court how its case law should evolve or how it should carry out the judicial functions conferred on it.“
The British Government insists that thereforms are necessary to clear a backlog of 150,000 cases – with 3,000 pending from the UK alone – and to strengthen the convention, by placing more onus on nation states to implement it.
An earlier leaked draft of the declaration drew angry criticisms from human rights organisations who feared it would “neuter” the court. today, despite Government denials that Mr Cameron’s initial proposals had been watered down, experts said some of the most contentious issues had been softened to allow the ECHR more discretion.
That's some guestlist! Stunning images show huge dynastic wedding between Ultra-Orthodox Jewish families which attracted 25,000 guests
Exclusive: Woolwich attack suspect attended meetings of banned Islamist group - and were known by security services
'Sickening, deluded and unforgivable': Horrific attack brings terror to London’s streets
World news in pictures
Ingrid Loyau-Kennett, the mother-of-two hailed as a hero for confronting Woolwich attackers, thought: 'better me than a child'
- 1 Exclusive: Woolwich attack suspect attended meetings of banned Islamist group - and were known by security services
- 2 'Sickening, deluded and unforgivable': Horrific attack brings terror to London’s streets
- 3 Grace Dent: I’m not sure how these people can avoid being called ‘bigots’. And the more ‘civilised’, the worse they are
- 4 Woolwich murder: They killed, then they performed - these men should be starved of our attention
- 5 Woolwich attack: The EDL will seek to exploit this evil crime for their own evil ends
BMF is the UK’s biggest and best loved outdoor fitness classes
Find out what The Independent's resident travel expert has to say about one of the most beautiful small cities in the world
Nook is donating eReaders to volunteers at high-need schools and participating in exclusive events throughout the campaign.
Get the latest on The Evening Standard's campaign to get London's children reading.
Win anything from gadgets to five-star holidays on our competitions and offers page.