David Cameron will today warn that the European Court of Human Rights is in danger of becoming "swamped with an endless backlog" of cases and sidetracked into dealing with relatively petty applications.
He will argue the time is right for sweeping reform of the Strasbourg-based court which has been charged by ministers of being too intrusive and meddling in domestic British affairs.
Those accusations brought a stinging retort yesterday from the court's president, Sir Nicolas Bratza. Writing in The Independent, he accused "senior British politicians" of betraying their ignorance of the institution's history and legal position by joining demands for reform.
Tory right-wingers seized on Sir Nicolas's comments as proof of the need to pull out of the court. Douglas Carswell, the MP for Clacton, said: "The issue is not whether every ruling by the Human Rights Euro court is right. Rather it is whether this supranational quango has the right to be making these decisions in the first place."
Mr Cameron will strike a conciliatory note in an address to the Council of Europe, insisting Britain has a historic and deep-rooted commitment to the concept of human rights. He will call for a drive to prevent cases that can be satisfactorily tried in national courts reaching the ECHR.
"The Court should be free to deal with the most serious violations of human rights. It should not be swamped with an endless backlog of cases," he will say. "It should not act as a small claims court.
Mr Cameron is using the UK's presidency of the Council, which ends in May, to try to drive through reforms. He aims to persuade all 47 Council members at a meeting in London in April to agree plans to filter the cases.
Britain also hopes that amendments to the European Convention on Human Rights, which underpins the court, can be agreed within two years.
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