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Clarke says Strasbourg 'too ready to substitute own judgment'

26 April 2011

Justice secretary Ken Clarke today 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”.

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

Clarke 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, 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,” said Clarke.

“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, the House of Lords European Committee called last month for more judges and Advocates General to be appointed to the European Court of Justice to avert “another crisis of workload”.

The committee said the number of Advocates General could be increased without the need for fresh legislation.

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