Inflexible government proposals to tackle the backlog of 150,000 cases at the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) could undermine the court’s credibility and deny access to justice, the Law Society has warned as an international conference on the court’s future begins today.
The proposals, in what will be known as the Brighton Declaration, include screening cases so that ‘minor’ instances of human rights infringements are ruled inadmissible and ‘codifying’ how the court should rule in certain instances.
Law Society vice-president Lucy Scott-Moncrieff said: ‘The court already has in place procedures for admissibility, and restricting them further will deny people access to justice. The attempt to codify court doctrines, such as the margin of appreciation and subsidiarity, may result in inflexible definitions that are not in keeping with our adaptive common law tradition.’
Dr Michael Pinto-Duschinsky, who last month resigned from the government body set up to examine the need for a British bill of rights, predicted that the declaration will end in a ‘fudge’. He told the Gazette: ‘The ECtHR will resist any political move to take away its sovereignty. We need to debate the basic issues in a deeper, freer way so as to break the deadlock of hostile statements regularly traded by Council of Europe (CoE) member states. Otherwise all that will be achieved is a fudge.’
Chair of the human rights subcommittee of the European Parliament, Barbara Lochbihler MEP, said there were fears that London could be pursuing a weakening of the court in the guise of reform.
She said: ‘Since last autumn we have repeatedly heard statements critical of the court from high-ranking British politicians, who seem to have an attitude against European institutions in general.’
Laurent Pettiti, chairman of the human rights committee of the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe, told the Gazette that the declaration had ‘effectively sidelined’ lawyers. He said: ‘Governments and human rights institutions have been invited to contribute to the declaration and yet lawyers, who represent individuals before the court, have been excluded from the process.’