The most senior judge in England and Wales has said that rulings from the European Court of Human Rights need not ‘necessarily’ bind UK courts. Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge said that the UK should “take account” of decisions made by the ECHR but not always follow them.
These comments will no doubt be welcomed by Prime Minister David Cameron who intends to do away with the Human Rights Act, which enshrines the European Convention on Human Rights in British law, in favour of a British Bill of Rights.
Recently, the ECHR ruled that it is unlawful for all prisoners to be denied the right to vote. Courts in the UK were opposed to this ruling and Mr Cameron is reluctant to give prisoners a vote.
He plans to release UK courts from being overruled by the ECHR by introducing the British Bill of Rights. Currently, the existence of the Human Rights Act means that UK courts must always be bound by Strasbourg.
President of the Supreme Court Lord Phillips said: “In the end, Strasbourg is going to win so long as we have the Human Rights Act and the Human Rights Act is designed to give effect to that part of the rule of law which says we must comply with the convention. If we have Strasbourg saying, ‘You can’t do that’, it raises some very real problems.”
But Lord Judge believes this shouldn’t be the case. He said: “I would like to say that maybe Strasbourg shouldn’t win and doesn’t need to win.
“For Strasbourg there is a debate yet to happen, it will have to happen in the Supreme Court, about what we really do mean in the Human Rights Act, what Parliament means in the Human Rights Act, when it said that courts in this country must ‘take account’ of the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
“I myself think it’s at least arguable that, having taken account of the decision of the court in Strasbourg, our courts are not bound by them. We have to give them due weight, and in most cases obviously we would follow them, but not I think necessarily.”
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