You rarely hear people defending the European Court of Human Rights. It is, according to British mythology, a meddlesome beast populated by dimwit judges of dubious foreign provenance whose rulings are invariably ninnyish, ignorant and intolerable in equal measure.
I prefer to think of the court as the last protector of individual rights often threatened by hostile governments. Sometimes that hostile government is our own. The court – and really this cannot be stressed often enough – offers protection from the state. Restraining government’s worst instincts is a noble calling and if our judges cannot or will not do it then praise be that the european justices are not so feeble-minded.
As for the charge the European court is unelected and unaccountable. Well, lo, that’s rather the point of an independent judicial process. This is a strength, not a weakness.
The latest outrage [sic] is that the court in Strasbourg has suggested detaining prisoners indefinitely while denying them any means of demonstrating they may have been successfully rehabilitated and thus no longer constitute a threat to society is not quite on. If this were a Russian case everyone would agree the court’s verdict is the correct one. But since it’s an English case we’re supposed to consider this slap a dreadful invasion of Brittanic sovereignty.
Hooey. The use of indeterminate – that is, indefinite – sentences was a Labour ploy mercifully scrapped by this government. Like many of the coalition’s better moments this is something the government prefers to hide. Chris Grayling, the new Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor, told MPs the government intends to appeal the court’s decision. Presumably this is because the government does not relish paying compensation to prisoners presently incarcerated beyond their tariff and with little or no means of demonstrating their fitness for release.