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European Court of Human Rights

Volume 542: debated on Tuesday 13 March 2012

When the Prime Minister addressed the Council of Europe in January, he set out our priorities for reform and how we intend to achieve them. We want reform to allow the Court better to fulfil the purpose for which it was intended: upholding human rights under the European convention on human rights and tackling serious violations of human rights across Europe.

I declare an interest, as I used to work for the Council of Europe and trained there. The coalition Government are absolutely right to prioritise reform of the Court’s procedures, because the backlog of cases and the skills of the Court need to be dealt with, but does the Secretary of State agree that we must continue to say that it is vital for this country, and all European countries, that we have a strong Court which can ensure that the rights of all European citizens are upheld, and upheld outside their own countries as well as within?

The convention applies, and the jurisdiction of the Court extends, to 47 member states, where we want to entrench the principles of liberal democracy, and it is in all our interests that we do so. The aim of our proposed reforms is to strengthen the Court and enable it to concentrate on the most serious cases requiring adjudication at international level. At the moment the Court is not functioning well because it has 150,000 cases in arrears, it take years to get a hearing and it has to deal with cases that are trivial, repetitive or have been properly dealt with at national level.

I seem to remember promising the electorate that we would bring in a Bill of Rights that would enable us to disregard some of the more barmy decisions of the European Court of Human Rights. Would the Secretary of State like to update us on our progress towards fulfilling that important commitment?

Different Conservative candidates put forward the campaign in different terms at the last election, and not for the first time, as you will know from your experience, Mr Speaker, and as I do from mine. As usual, I am sticking firmly to the policy of the Government of whom I am a serving member. The reasons we are reforming the Court were set out clearly in the terms of reference of the commission looking at the matter and in the Prime Minister’s speech to the Council of Europe, which I think coincide with my own views.