3 Oct 2014

Tory human rights plan ‘doesn’t make sense’

Political Editor

Ex-president of the European Court of Human Rights Sir Nicolas Bratza says Tory plans to ignore European rulings would put the UK parliament in breach of international law and “set a bad example”.

Conservatives have pledged to create a new British bill of rights if they are elected next year, aimed at giving British courts the “final say”, said Justice Secretary Chris Grayling. Under the plans, the party has promised to ensure that ministers and UK judges would no longer have to fully comply with rulings made by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), and it could leave the European convention of human rights all together.

But Sir Nicolas Bratza, who also served as an ECHR judge, told Channel 4 News that aside from the proposals not making “much sense”, they would put the UK parliament in breach of international law.

I have never found anything to match the recent venom that has been turned against the court Sir Nicolas Bratza

In a radical move that has attracted criticism from lawyers, not least from the party’s own former attorney general Dominic Grieve QC, the party said it would scrap the human rights act which was introduced by Labour in 1998, that enshrined the European convention on human rights into domestic law.

A future Conservative government would effectively issue an ultimatum to Strasbourg that it must accept being merely an “advisory body” – or Britain would withdraw from the system altogether – under the proposals. Mr Grayling said that the UK could no longer tolerate a “mission creep”.

Read more: Six key rulings the ECHR forced on the UK

He added: “What we have effectively got is a legal blank cheque, where the court can go where it chooses to go. We will put in place a provision that will say that the rulings of Strasbourg will not have legal effect in the UK without the consent of parliament. Effectively, what we are doing is turning Strasbourg into an advisory body.”

But Mr Grieve said the plans contained a series of factual “howlers” and were not properly thought through. And Sir Nicolas said the new bill would essentially incorporate the same rights that already exist under the current convention and that ignoring the European court would hugely damage the UK’s reputation.

‘It sets a very bad example’

He said that much of the negativity towards the Strasbourg court was built on three separate recent rulings: prisoners being given the right to vote, the delay in Aba Qatada’s deportation to Jordan, and the judgement that whole-life tariffs breach prisoner’s human rights.

“I have never found anything to match the recent venom that has been turned against the court, based essentially on three decisions, which I think, if were carefully read, were perfectly reasonable in the way they were decided,” he told Political Editor Gary Gibbon.

If Britain went ahead with the plans the impact internationally would be “enormous”, not just damaging Britain’s reputation but potentially destroying the whole system of the European convention, Sir Nicolas added.

Some recent decisions to try and get around the European court rulings, have already had an impact further afield, he added: “As a result of non-compliance with the court’s judgement… in the case about prisoners’ rights to votes, which is now eight years old, it has already had an effect both in Russia and Ukraine in the ability of a government to say; ‘Well if that’s the way a government behaves, then we should be able to behave in exactly the same way’.

“So it sets a very bad example.”

Mr Grayling has stressed that he had consulted a range of QCs and other experts before producing the paper – denying it had been “rushed out” after the prime minister made a crowd-pleasing pledge at this week’s party conference.