Letter: Barred from Court of Human Rights

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Sir: The proposal to block the automatic right of access to the European Court of Human Rights by the Cabinet following the intervention by Michael Howard ('Howard bars Euro-justice access', 18 March) is outrageous but typical of the Government's casual attitude to our rights.

The current system takes much too long (on average five years from start to finish) and is flawed in many other ways and is in desperate need of reform.

Despite the difficulties for applicants, as you noted in your article, until very recently there were more complaints lodged by people against the UK governnment than any other state and more cases upheld by the Court against the UK than any other government. Inevitably a considerable proportion of the cases concerned matters which were the responsibility of the Home Secretary. These cases have involved very fundamental rights.

For instance: for prisoners and patients of psychiatric hospitals the Court has established the right to communicate with solicitors and courts and set up fairer processes to adjudicate on release. The criminalisation of gay sex between consenting adults in Northern Ireland was condemned (and in future the Court is likely to have to rule on the age of consent in England and Wales). Also in Northern Ireland the interrogation techniques of the police were condemned and the absence of judicial safeguards under the Prevention of Terrorism Act was ruled unlawful (until the Government derogated from that part of the convention). Corporal punishment in the Isle of Man and in state schools was declared unlawful. The Court has resulted in fairer court procedures for children in care and a right of access to personal files. The freedom of the press was upheld in the Sunday Times Thalidomide case and, at least in part, in the Spycatcher case. The closed shop was outlawed, and so was unregulated telephone

tapping.

No wonder Michael Howard is reluctant to support proposals that would give individuals an automatic right to take their case to Strasbourg.

Yours faithfully,

JOHN WADHAM

Legal Director, National Council for Civil Liberties

London, SE1

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