Human rights: justice secretary backs UK reforms of the European Court of Human Rights

Human rights: justice secretary backs UK reforms of the European Court of Human Rights

The justice secretary Kenneth Clarke has dismissed criticism of UK proposals to reform the European Court of Human Rights, claiming that the ‘Brighton declaration’ would result in a reduced workload in Strasbourg.

Dismissing criticism by British judge Sir Nicholas Bratza, the president of the court, the justice secretary has said that the declaration would see more cases handled at national court level, speeding up the process of tackling the backlog of more than 150,000 cases waiting to be heard.

However, he also acknowledged that there is some opposition from other states within the Council of Europe and that progress on getting an agreement had been slower than he had hoped.

“These reforms represent a substantial package and are a significant step towards realising the goals that the prime minister set out in Strasbourg,” said Mr Clarke.

“Taken together, these changes should mean fewer cases being considered by the court. Those that it considers should be allegations of serious violations or major points of interpretation of the convention and will be processed without the scandalous delays we are seeing at present,” he added.

Sir Nicholas Bratza criticised UK methods for reforming the court, saying that instead of changing the caseload more funds should be diverted to the court. Sir Nicholas has welcomed the fact that the UK-led reforms have been deferred.

The UK currently holds the rotating six-monthly presidency of the Council of Europe and has been pushing a reform agenda which it has called ‘subsidiarity’.

Sir Nicholas, however, has questioned the need for many of the UK reforms.

“We have difficulty in seeing the need for, or the wisdom of, attempting to legislate in the European Convention of Human Rights any more than for the many other tools of interpretation which have been developed by the court in carrying out the judicial role entrusted to it,” said Sir Nicholas.

Legal commentators are divided in their assessment. Philippe Sands is the professor of International law at University College London.

“The Brighton declaration will enhance the role of the ECHR, safeguard the vital right of individual petition, and help meet the challenge of the growing case-law,” he said.

However, others have agreed with Sir Nicholas that the changes have been watered down so much that there remains little substance left to make a difference.

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