James Forsyth

The European Court of Human Rights is a threat to British law that must be dealt with

The European Court of Human Rights is a threat to British law that must be dealt with
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The most underreported story of the past few weeks has been Lord Hoffmann’s attack on the European Court of Human Rights. Hoffmann, a senior Law Lord, declared in a lecture to the Judicial Studies Board that the court “has been unable to resist the temptation to aggrandise its jurisdiction and to impose uniform rules on Member States. It considers itself the equivalent of the Supreme Court of the United States, laying down a federal law of Europe.”

Hoffmann’s case against the court is that is has neither the legitimacy nor the standing to interfere as it does in domestic law;

“As the case law shows, there is virtually no aspect of our legal system, from land law to social security to torts to consumer contracts, which is not arguably touched at some point by human rights.  But we have not surrendered our sovereignty over all these matters. We remain an independent nation with its own legal system, evolved over centuries of constitutional struggle and pragmatic change. I do not suggest belief that the United Kingdom’s legal system is perfect but I do argue that detailed decisions about how it could be improved should be made in London, either by our democratic institutions or by judicial bodies which, like the Supreme Court of the United States, are integral with our own society and respected as such.”

I doubt that any Coffee Housers would disagree with Hoffmann on this point. I suspect also that most would want Cameron to do something about this. But, depressingly, Dominic Grieve’s response to Hoffmann’s rallying cry was to say:

“It is interesting to note that the concerns we have about the operation of the European court are shared by one of the most senior members of the judiciary.

"We believe in replacing the Human Rights Act with a Bill of Rights and responsibilities. We will be able to address some of these issues by giving courts greater discretion in how rights are interpreted."

In reality the only way to deal with this issue, as opposed to some of these issues, is to withdraw from the ECHR. But Dominic Grieve is a supporter of the ECHR, devoting his maiden speech to it. If Cameron wants to actually deal with the problems created by the overreach of the European Court of Human Rights then he will have to get himself a new shadow Justice Secretary. 

Written byJames Forsyth

James Forsyth is Political Editor of the Spectator. He is also a columnist in The Sun.

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