UK urges rights court reform

Justice Secretary Ken Clarke will chair a Council of Europe meeting in Brighton that is looking at ways to reform the European Court of Human Rights.

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Court changes offer 'increased impunity to rights abusers', warns Amnesty

Tara Lyle, policy adviser at Amnesty International, warned:

These changes might allow Britain greater autonomy in a handful of cases that have gone against it, but they will also offer increased impunity to human rights abusers across Europe.

Ken Clarke is so insistent that Britain should not be obliged to put up with interference from Strasbourg that he is willing to reduce the scrutiny of decisions made in domestic courts across Europe.

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Rights court president says reforms are 'uncomfortable'

The president of the European Court of Human Rights has said he is "uncomfortable" at the suggestion government can dictate how it should carry out its work and there is no need for new admissibility criteria cases. Sir Nicolas Bratza addressed the council meeting:

In order to fulfil its role the European court must not only be independent, it must also be seen to be independent. That is why 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."

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. I would plead that this should not lead governments to overlook the very real concrete benefits which the court's decisions have brought for their own countries on the internal plane."

– Sir Nicolas Bratza, President of the European Court of Human Rights

Justice Secretary says reforms should not 'weaken human rights'

Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke has told a Council of Europe meeting that a "shared national interest" in change is needed to reform the European Court of Human Rights:

It's only by advancing human rights that we secure our ability to live, travel and trade in a more open, stable and prosperous world. However, all institutions need to adapt to a modern world.

We're all in no doubt the urgent need to reform the Strasbourg Court convention system. The reform is not designed to weaken human rights, on the contrary. We are not seeking to undermine the profoundly important shared values of the convention but to strengthen them and advance justice, democracy and freedom.

– Kenneth Clarke, Justice Secretary

What reforms does the UK want?

Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke says he is hopeful the other 46 member states of the Council of Europe will agree to the reforms the UK government wants to make to the role of the European Court of Human Rights.

The UK wants to:

  • Improve the efficiency of the court to enable it to work faster
  • Find ways to help the court reduce the backlog of some 150,000 cases
  • Increase the role of nation states in protecting human rights so that fewer cases are referred to the court

Consensus will be required to alter the court's regulations.

The Council of Europe has prepared a preliminary opinion of the Court outlining the reforms it wants to debate.

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Reform conference will bring no 'dramatic changes'

Sir Nicolas Bratza said he thinks "the balance is right" between national governments and the court. Credit: Council of Europe

The British judge who heads the Strasburg's human rights court has told the Times that today's conference in Brighton will not "change the way we do our job."

Sir Nicolas Bratza said the meeting would not alter the power balance between the European Court of Human Rights and Westminster. He said:

"The problem is that this has been talked up too much. It is forgotten that this is not the first conference, it is the third in a series, part of a continuing process. I don’t expect the dramatic changes that some have anticipated.”

Profile: European Court of Human Rights

  • Operates in Strasbourg in France
  • Most cases brought by individuals who feel they have been denied justice by national courts
  • Individuals can bring a case without needing an expensive lawyer
  • The court will adhere to the European Convention on Human Rights
  • Rulings are legally binding
  • The Court's deliberations are always secret
  • Over 50,000 new applications are lodged every year
  • The Council of Europe checks to see that rulings are implemented

Reforming the way Europe handles human rights

The row over the deportation of Abu Qatada is set to be reignited again today as Britain tries to secure a deal on reforms that will see European human rights judges intervene less in British affairs.

The Justice Secretary, Kenneth Clarke Credit: Reuters

The Justice Secretary Ken Clarke is hosting a conference of representatives of the 47 member nations of the Council of Europe in Brighton. Mr Clarke will try and find agreement among the Council which oversees human rights, democracy and law across all member nations.

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