Reservations as Clarke wins Strasbourg court reform deal
Forty-seven European states have adopted the final draft of the UK government’s proposed reforms of the Strasbourg human rights court, despite reservations expressed by some of the court’s top officials.
These reservations include fears that national parliaments might attempt to compromise the independence of the court and that the reforms are simply ‘tinkering at the edges’ of the court’s procedures.
Justice minister Kenneth Clarke, announcing the adoption of the Brighton Declaration on reforming the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), said: ‘These reforms represent a substantial package of reform and are a significant step towards realising the goals that the prime minister set out in Strasbourg (in January 2012). Taken together, these changes should mean fewer cases being considered by the court… and without the scandalous delays we are seeing at present.’
However, ECtHR president Sir Nicholas Bratza, a British lawyer, said that at a time that human rights and the court were being held responsible for much of what is wrong in society, the ‘court must be independent and be seen to be independent’. He said: ‘That is why the court gets uncomfortable when member states try to dictate to it.’
He added that the government’s new admissibility criteria merely added to the court’s existing ‘arsenal’ of such criteria.
Jean-Claude Mignon, president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (CoE), said that although he accepted that it was incumbent upon member states to apply ECtHR principles, ‘the court should always have the last word’.
CoE secretary-general Thorbjorn Jagland said: ‘The world has moved on from nationalism to internationalism, where we must all protect human rights by law. While it is important to improve national implementation of the European Convention of Human Rights, we must not seem to be weakening the importance of the court.’
Professor Philip Leach, one of the authors of a ECtHR report commissioned by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said the government’s proposals merely ‘tinkered at the edges’ of the court’s procedures.
The Brighton Declaration marks the culmination of the UK’s six-month chairmanship of the CoE, which ends next month. Albania is set to assume the chair next and then Andorra.