UK presses for European human rights convention changes

European Court of Human Rights building in Strasbourg There is much caution towards the idea of curbing the powers of the Strasbourg judges

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The government is calling for the European Convention on Human Rights to be substantially rewritten so national courts have a greater say.

Ministers have long promised to use the six-month presidency of the Council of Europe for reform in Strasbourg.

They have now circulated a detailed position paper with plans for the human rights court.

The document is the basis for negotiations with other countries ahead of a summit in Brighton in April.

Fewer cases

The draft that I have seen says the European court should not be able to examine cases that are "identical in substance to a claim that has been considered by a national court".

The exception would be when "a national court has manifestly made an error in its interpretation of the convention", or if the case "raises a serious question about the way the convention is interpreted or applied".

This would mean far fewer cases would ever reach Strasbourg.

The government also calls for people to have much less time to apply to the European Court - just two, three or four months, not six months as now, after a national court makes its final judgement.

Massive backlog

The position paper - known as the draft Brighton Declaration - says the European Convention should be rewritten so that it includes two key principles.

One of "subsidiarity", namely that decisions should be taken at the lowest levels possible, and the "margin of appreciation", namely that national governments should have greater leeway in applying the judgements of the court.

The government calls for a new procedure so the Strasbourg court can offer advisory opinions that would not be binding on national courts.

And it demands that more judges are appointed to deal with the court's massive backlog of cases.

The document also sets out the government's call for a new commission to rethink the whole future of the court and the convention.

The government is under substantial pressure to act to curb the powers of the Strasbourg court.

Many MPs - and many voters - oppose its recent decisions to prevent the deportation of the radical cleric Abu Qatada and allow prisoners the vote.

Setting example

But the government's proposed reforms are controversial - and they'll need the unanimous agreement of 46 other countries in Brighton if they are to come into force.

It is likely that some countries will seek to water down the impact of these reforms.

Liberty chief executive Shami Chakrabarti told BBC Radio 4's Today programme the government's proposals suggested that Britain, and other countries with their own human rights acts, should no longer be "effectively subject to the court of human rights".

She said Britain should be setting an example on human rights to younger democracies in Europe, like Russia.

But the Conservative MP Dominic Raab told the programme: "We should do the right thing for British democracy and we should do the right thing in terms of upping the pressure on [Russian PM] Mr Putin... there's no point in kidding ourselves that Putin is going to care two hoots about whether we deport Abu Qatada, or prisoner voting."

The Strasbourg judges themselves openly oppose many of the UK government's proposals, such as incorporating subsidiarity and the margin of appreciation, onto the face of the convention.

There is a broad consensus within the Council of Europe that the court needs to change, above all that its backlog is too large and it needs to focus more on cases dealing with fundamental rights.

But there is much caution towards the idea of curbing the powers of the Strasbourg judges.

There is also the question of the Liberal Democrats. Many are very reluctant to question the role of the Strasbourg court and some may find these proposals hard to stomach.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 438.

    We should ignore the ECoHR just like the rest of Europe do.

  • rate this

    Comment number 437.

    What a lot of rubbish, I think the UK is capable of arranging bi-lateral extradition arrangements"

    So you think arranging 47 or more different treaties which will insist on similar protections to the ECHR preferable to agreeing these once?

    "What's more if we were not hamstrung by the ECHR the 21.7 would probably never made it to Rome"

    There is no evidence at all that is true.

  • rate this

    Comment number 436.

    393.Total Mass Retain

    What a lot of rubbish, I think the UK is capable of arranging bi-lateral extradition arrangements

    What's more if we were not hamstrung by the ECHR the 21.7 would probably never made it to Rome

    As for codified international standards, this doesn't make them effective or appropriate they are at best a compromise at worst a international shield for criminals

  • rate this

    Comment number 435.

    briwen "residents of the UK should have their human rights determined by the UK government" ..and there lies the problem, if the Goivernment's attitude to the NHS is anything to go by then no one in their right mind would let them anywhere near employment law or human rights. They don't yet understand, people before profits. Safety before profits.

  • rate this

    Comment number 434.

    The ECHR and the act drags the UK into the 21C. Who knows, perhaps we may even get the chance to use the organisations considerable weight to help we UK "subjects" obtain that most elusive of things, in the UK at least, a written constitution. Now there's something to aspire to.

  • rate this

    Comment number 433.

    429.Total Mass Retain

    Many problems arise with the Strasbourg Court overturning our Court decisions to get rid of certain people from our country who are an (alleged) threat to this country.
    For common sense to prevail, the legislation will need to be redrafted. We must be able to remove all non-UK criminals and those non-UK citizens who pose a potential threat to us all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 432.

    Listen people, the rights of the individual are paramount, they are much more important than the rights of a society, Winston Smith knew this.
    Vive la Cour Europeenne!

  • rate this

    Comment number 431.

    Any Act which prevets murderers,rapists or terrorists being deported from the UK is bad law and should be scrapped.The Human Rights Act as set out in the UK fell into disrepute a long time ago.Sadly,it only deal with "rights" and not responsibilities.

  • rate this

    Comment number 430.

    421. swerdna
    My argument was not against fundamentalist beliefs, but who decides what *is* fundamentalist/a threat?
    A 'fundamentalist' Muslim may call a 'fundamentalist' atheist a threat, or vice versa. Who decides what the threat is?
    Abuses towards one group could easily be applied to a diff group tomorrow. HR laws ensure all are treated equal, not judged by the current social and moral compass

  • rate this

    Comment number 429.

    " swerdna
    Unfortunately, the courts have no option but to interpret the exact words of the legislation."

    Since the same wording is used in 47 different states, how come UK judges interpret the "exact words" in different ways from the rest, then? If you read the ECHR, you would discover that the wording is rather general and subject to local and temporal interpretation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 428.

    Having listened to the police evidence to the Leveson inquiry this morning where the tabloid press has driven a coach and horses through the Data Protection Act and Article 8 of the Convention with thousands of people’s human rights being violated.
    The people who were meant to protect us: The Data Commission, Police and CPS effectively did nothing.
    I think we need Europe more than ever!

  • rate this

    Comment number 427.

    I support review position of Strasbourg; after all, Britain has had human rights issues - like rendition & torture. It also has corruption on a vast scale. It's my belief that if decisions are subject to review & possibly CHANGE, submitting Court may better better jurisprudence. In my gut, it feels like Britain has legal issues it does not want exposed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 426.

    “420 Martin
    The act should remain as it is but interpreted better by our own judges and those in the European courts. The safety of the general public must come first.”
    Unfortunately, the courts have no option but to interpret the exact words of the legislation. As this interpretation makes no sense to anyone apart from anarchists, terrorists & criminals, the legislation must be replaced

  • rate this

    Comment number 425.

    The ECHR represents 47 countries in Europe - including Turkey. The majority of cases brought to the court are concerning the actions of the Russian and Turkish governments. The UK cases are but a tiny part. For the real information you should visit their website - get it from the horse's mouth - "".

  • rate this

    Comment number 424.

    The Human Rights Act talks about 'no person','any person' or 'every person'. It does not mention nationality, such as 'every EU citizen'. So any person, non-UK, non EU, gets the same rights as the rest of us for to not do so would be discrimination. The ECHR is the usual rich man's club but the legislation was weak in the first place and our underpowered MPs and MEPs were asleep on the job.

  • rate this

    Comment number 423.

    These legal human ‘rights’ should be tied to equivalent human responsibilities.

    Breach your responsibilities and your rights are waived.

    Should always have been so and many of the current wired anomalies would have been avoided.

  • rate this

    Comment number 422.

    Get rid of it, EHRC. It may have been a good idea in the past but not now. Rights are dependant only on your own country not some nonsense international body.

    Really its purpose was only to make bad countries behave better, now we are in a different world, a media world that will publicise bad countries doing things unreasonably.

    We can agree principles, but enact them our way.

  • rate this

    Comment number 421.

    "While I am no supporter of Abu Qatada, or his sentiments it seems that he has been labelled as 'militant' and 'fundamentalist' (probably justifiably) and imprisoned for his opinions....."
    Nothing wrong with 'fundamentalist' beliefs provided they don't threaten others. The problem is the interpretation of HR legislation gives those who threaten more rights than those threatened.

  • rate this

    Comment number 420.

    The act should remain as it is but interpreted better by our own judges and those in the European courts. The safety of the general public must always come first

  • rate this

    Comment number 419.

    The human rights system is a complete and utter joke. Enough said.


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