A detailed report, written by veteran Parliamentary legal researcher Robert Broardhurst, and commissioned by a group of backbench Conservative MPs including Chris Heaton-Harris MP and Andrea Leadsom MP, has called for action on the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) to reinstate Parliamentary democracy.
This important report argues that we must radically change our relationship with the ECtHR so that it can no longer impose trivial notions of rights on the UK against the will of Parliament.
Among the findings the report discovered that:
Since Britain subscribed to the ECtHR’s jurisdiction in 1966 there have been more than 350 rulings on whether the UK has violated convention rights. The number of judgments made against the UK stands at 271, against only 86 that were successfully defended. This, added to the Human Rights Act’s domestic rulings, has led to judgements that fly in the face of public opinion.
Areas looked at where the ECtHR has conflicted with public opinion:
Prisoner voting rights
Prevention of deportations
Extending rights to housing
Broardhurst believes that that the ECtHR’s interpretation of human rights in these areas offends the British peoples’ common understanding of those rights and that although parts of the Coalition are aware of this problem – the proposed UK Bill of Rights will not offer a full remedy to a growing problem.
Broardhurst’s preferred solution offers a more far reaching solution. He argues that to solve the issue once and for all, the democratically accountable UK Parliament should be given the power to overturn ECtHR judgements directed at the UK.
The report suggests that if other signatories to the ECtHR do not agree to this step, the UK may have to withdraw from the Court’s jurisdiction. This would also entail withdrawal from the Convention on Human Rights but, as the report notes, the UK could still enshrine the rights of the Convention in national law through a British Bill of Rights. After all, it is the way the rights have been interpreted by judges, rather then the rights themselves, that has been the source of most of the problems.
The UK took the Presidency of the Council of Europe in November 2011 and this will run until May 2012. If reform of the Court is not forthcoming, the number of people willing to consider the option of withdrawal is only likely to increase.
This is of course all complicated by the fact that the EU is set to join the ECtHR in its own right – but that’s another story.