Human Rights: Former Lord Chancellor claims Human Rights Act is being applied all wrong

Human Rights: Former Lord Chancellor claims Human Rights Act is being applied all wrong

Lord Irvine of Lairg, the former Lord Chancellor under Tony Blair and architect of the controversial Human Rights Act, has used a speech to criticise the way British judges interpret crucial laws.

Speaking last night at University College London, he said: “Domestic courts have strayed considerably from giving effect to Parliament’s intention”.

The Human Rights Act 1998 was drafted to give legal effect to the European Convention on Human Rights. Placing the law on the UK statute books meant that claimants could bring a case in a domestic court, rather than having to take it to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

Section two of the Human Rights Act governs the way UK judges should take into account decisions of the Strasbourg court when making their decisions. It is this section which Irvine believes has been misinterpreted.

In some cases UK judges have been known to issue decisions which they believe are wrong on the basis that they must follow a previous judgment from the Strasbourg court. In a 2009 case on control orders, Lord Hoffmann gave reasoning that the European Court should be followed, even though he thought the decision was wrong and potentially damaging to the national interest.

Lord Irvine urged the UK Supreme Court, the highest court in the country, to reassess its relationship with the European Court of Human Rights, saying judges have a constitutional duty to reject decisions from Strasbourg which they feel are flawed.

Lord Irvine’s comments have special relevance this week, as the European Court passes judgment on the Horncastle case, in which the UK Supreme Court declined to follow the European Court, and asked them to think again on the admissibility of hearsay evidence.

He said that UK judges “should not abstain from deciding cases for themselves simply because it may cause difficulties for the UK [in Europe]”.

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