Skip to main content

European Court of Human Rights

Volume 469: debated on Tuesday 11 December 2007

7. How many cases brought by prisoners under human rights legislation went to the European Court of Human Rights in the last five years. (172664)

The Government are not routinely informed by the court of all applications containing complaints against the United Kingdom. Therefore, no statistics are held centrally on the number of applications against the UK made by prisoners in the past five years. However, since 1 January 2003 judgments or admissibility decisions in at least 41 ECHR cases in which the applicant was a prisoner have been communicated to the United Kingdom.

My hon. Friend will be aware of the ruling in the House of Lords at the end of October that the 12-month rule on applications under human rights law did not apply in Scotland. Thus, £70 million in compensation may be paid to prisoners. With the recent case of a prisoner who was denied IVF treatment getting a €5,000 award from the court through the convention, does my hon. Friend think that the convention is tipped the wrong way, and that it is time we started thinking of victims and put an end to this ludicrous state of affairs?[Official Report, 18 December 2007, Vol. 469, c. 1MC.]

My hon. Friend refers to the judgment in Somerville and others v. Scottish Ministers. The Government are disappointed by the Grand Chamber’s judgment and are studying it with great care. As he says, it has an effect on time scales for bringing actions, but clarifies the legal structure of the Scotland Act 1998. Careful consideration is required across Government here in Westminster and by Scottish Ministers.

On my hon. Friend’s general point, allegations of breaches of convention rights are dealt with by the courts, which weigh the evidence and decide the outcome according to law. If, at the end of that legal process, the outcome is such that the Government believe that a change in the law is necessary, the appropriate legislative arrangements must be made.

There are 11,211 foreign national prisoners in prisons in England and Wales, making up 14 per cent. of the prison population. Is it the Human Rights Act that prevents those people from being returned to secure detention in their own countries? My understanding is that their consent is required before they are returned to their country of origin. Most people in this country would like to see them sent back, even if they did not consent.

The hon. Gentleman needs to be brought up to date with some of the facts and figures. The Government have managed to get 100 agreements with other countries in order to have foreign national prisoners returned. The 14 per cent. that the hon. Gentleman mentions is the second lowest percentage in the whole of western Europe. If he really wants to find where problems lie, he needs to look elsewhere.

In these cases, has there been any dialogue about the barbaric practice of handcuffing women to beds when they are in labour and giving birth?

My hon. Friend refers to a disgraceful practice during the last Conservative Administration. I can assure her that this Government will make sure that such practices do not occur under our watch, or ever again.

Can the hon. Lady advise the House of the position under the human rights legislation of a householder or a property owner who defends their property, family or possessions from a burglary and is subsequently accused of assault? Can they be given the full protection of the law?

I know that the hon. Lady takes a considerable interest in this matter, and I believe that she introduced a private Member’s Bill on the subject some time ago. I understand her concerns, and she is quite right that such a person is entitled to full protection under the law, and would get it.