Skip to main content

European Court of Human Rights

Volume 545: debated on Tuesday 15 May 2012

4. What assessment he has made of progress in reforming the operation of the European Court of Human Rights; and if he will make a statement. (106577)

8. What assessment he has made of progress in reforming the operation of the European Court of Human Rights; and if he will make a statement. (106581)

19. What assessment he has made of progress in reforming the operation of the European Court of Human Rights; and if he will make a statement. (106596)

Good progress has been made in clearing the backlog of inadmissible cases, but more work is needed to address the growing backlog of admissible cases, hence the recent Brighton declaration under the UK’s chairmanship of the Council of Europe, which represents a substantial and important step towards realising the Government’s ambitions.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the European Court should be a court of last resort and end the practice of revisiting domestic courts’ decisions when it does not need to do so?

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. We expect the effect of the reforms agreed under the Brighton declaration to be that more cases are resolved at the national level, which should mean that fewer cases are considered by the Court.

In welcoming these reforms, my constituents fear that they might not be acted upon. What can my hon. Friend do to ensure that the Strasbourg Court recognises the will of this national Parliament?

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. Under the Brighton declaration, we have agreed a framework for longer term reform, with built-in review points up until 2019, to give impetus to the measures proposed under the Brighton declaration and to consider whether further measures are needed. We will, of course, continue to monitor progress.

One of the problems with the European Court is its huge backlog of cases. What does my hon. Friend think the Government can do to reform the Court so that frivolous cases are not brought and the only cases brought are those of the nature of serious human rights breaches?

This is a major issue. The measures agreed under the Brighton declaration will make a big difference once implemented. More cases should be resolved at the national level, which should mean that fewer cases are considered by the Court. Where cases go to Strasbourg, the Court should be able to focus more on the important cases and do so more quickly.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his elevation to the Dispatch Box. I hope very much that his temporary promotion will be made permanent in the imminent reshuffle. The hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones) mentioned the backlog, which is now 152,000 cases. Does the hon. Gentleman not think it important to have a fast-track system through the European Court for national security cases?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his kind comments. With the Brighton declaration, we have ensured that fewer cases go to Strasbourg and that those cases that can be handled at the national level are held and dealt with at the national level. That means that fewer cases will go to Strasbourg and that the important ones—we hope that only the important ones will go there—will be dealt with a lot quicker.

If the hon. Gentleman eventually finds time to bring forward a British Bill of Rights, what elements of the Human Rights Act does he think will be in it?

We certainly are considering a British Bill of Rights. We would take into account the various issues concerning Britain and ensure that freedoms and liberties were enhanced, so we would hope that a Bill of Rights would build on the terms of the convention. On the specific measures, we are signed up to the convention, so the whole of it would apply.

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm, after giving that last reply, that there are no long-term plans to leave the European Court of Human Rights or to amend or leave the convention?

I can happily tell the hon. Gentleman that we have no plans to leave the convention. We are signed up to it, along with the other 46 nations, but where we see the need for change, we will ensure that those changes take place, in the same way that changes took place in Brighton last month.