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European Court of Human Rights

Volume 547: debated on Tuesday 3 July 2012

2. What recent representations he has received on the implementation of decisions of the European Court of Human Rights. (114718)

I am very grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for that detailed reply. He will know that there is concern, certainly on the Government Benches, that the European Court of Human Rights gives insufficient weight to the decisions of national courts, and that in addition, given the backlog of more than 150,000 cases, the Court is not devoting its entire time and attention to truly serious abuses of human rights. In that context, what are the Government doing to ensure that votes of national Parliaments and decisions by national courts are better taken into account by the European Court?

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. We addressed that during our chairmanship of the Council of Europe. We had a conference at Brighton of all 47 member states and produced the Brighton declaration. Our considerable achievement there was not very widely reported because, not surprisingly, the media regarded it as a footnote to the Abu Qatada case which was in the newspapers at the time. Forty-seven countries agreed that we should have a greater margin of appreciation, to use the jargon, and that more regard should be paid to those decisions of the courts of nation states which had obviously addressed their obligations under the convention. That will have a considerable impact on future cases.

Is it not long overdue that the Government move to ensure that the courts of the United Kingdom, rather than the European Court, have supremacy in the area of human rights, including protection of Christian liberties and freedoms?

We are taken to the Court much less than other members and we lose only about 2%. Sometimes that 2% includes cases where there is widespread support here for the decision, such as the holding of DNA and other information belonging to people who have never been convicted of a criminal offence, which was a recent judgment. The convention still has a very important role to play across Europe. It is hugely significant in the 47 member states and it enables standards to be applied in places all the way from Russia, Turkey and Azerbaijan across to us and Iceland. We have always been subject to the rule of law. We have always bound ourselves under the convention to accept the judgments. These are the standards that we all agreed upon after the second world war, which were not challenged in this country till 10 or 15 years ago, when some judgments here began to annoy sections of the media.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend take this opportunity to congratulate Mr Paul Mahoney on his election as the UK judge to the European Court of Human Rights, and does he share my satisfaction that the new judge is committed to ensuring that the principles of subsidiarity are held high in the Court—for example, in relation to the right of individual countries to decide issues relating to national religion?

I personally disapprove of a parliamentary vote on the appointment of judges, but that is the system that has prevailed there since 1947. Fortunately, the British put forward three excellently qualified candidates for the judgeship, so I congratulate Mr Mahoney on his election and I am sure he will make a very considerable contribution.

I am sure the Justice Secretary will agree that it would be inappropriate for him as a member of the Executive or me as a Member of the legislature to interfere with the appointment of judges in the UK. In the light of that and of his last answer, what are his views not on the vote but on the political interference that appears to have taken place with the appointment of the UK representative to the European Court of Human Rights?

The Council of Europe works on the basis that the Parliamentary Assembly votes from a shortlist of three people provided by the member state, and now steps are taken to ensure that all three come up to certain standards, which I am glad to say the British nominees quite easily did. It sounds as though the right hon. Gentleman and I would not start from here, and I agree that normally politicians should not vote on which judge ought to be appointed to any judicial post, but they did and Mr Mahoney, I am sure, will prove an excellent choice.