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Clarke calls on ECtHR not to interfere

3 May 2011

Justice secretary Ken Clarke has accused the European Court of Human Rights of being “rather too ready to substitute its own judgment for that of national courts, without giving enough weight to the strength of the domestic legal system or allowing for genuine differences of national approach”.

Clarke was speaking in Izmir, Turkey last week, before a Council of Europe conference on the future of the ECtHR.

He said in February that the UK would use its chairmanship of the Council of Europe, which begins in November this year, to press for reform of Strasbourg (see solicitorsjournal.com, 21 February 2011).

At the same time the prime minister confirmed that a commission would be set up, chaired jointly by Clarke and deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, to establish a British bill of rights.

“In the UK we believe that the principles of the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary are fundamental to democracy,” Clarke said.

“A country in which the government never loses a court case is not one in which most of us would wish to live. However, we also believe that courts exist to serve the democracies over which they have jurisdiction.”

Clarke said the UK had always been a strong supporter of the ECtHR, but there was “an urgent need to make sure that the court’s efficiency is improved so that its vast backlog of cases is reduced, and for states to send the best possible judges to serve on the court”.

In a separate development, a statement signed last week by the 47 members of the Council of Europe called on the ECtHR not to intervene in asylum and immigration cases without taking into account “the effectiveness of domestic procedures”.

So long as these procedures operated fairly and with respect for human rights, the council said the court should intervene only “in the most exceptional cases”.

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