UK’s Cameron Warns: Human Rights Court Fails to Fight Terrorism

January 26, 2012  

British Prime Minister David Cameron delivered a speech before the Council of Europe, the 47 nation grouping that is responsible for the European Court of Human Rights.

Britain has been discomfited by the court’s activism and decisions. A recent parliamentary study foud that Britain lost 75% of the cases in which it was sued. While some of the British media and Parliament have gone ballistic over some decisions, David Cameron provided a more measured plea for change.

The British PM prefaced his remarks by reviewing his country’s record on the struggle for human rights, from the groundbreaking Magna Carta and Bill of Rights through the British struggle against Nazi Germany – and as recently as its position on the Arab Spring.

We are not and never will be a country that walks on by while human rights are trampled into the dust. This has a lot to do with Britain’s national character – a love of freedom and an instinctive loathing of over-mighty authority. But it is also about our national interest – to live, travel and trade in a more open, secure world. When a government respects its citizens’ human rights, that makes for a more stable country – and that is good for all of us.

Britain also had deep respect for the 60-year-old European Convention that gave rise to the European Court of Human Rights and did not believe that Europe could dispense with it, given current examples of tyranny, such as Belarus.

That said, David Cameron began to critique the court.

The court is submerged by cases. In its first 40 years 46,000 cases were referred to the court; in 2010 alone 61,300 applications were presented. Some were farcical. One case, dismissed in the end, involved a passenger whose human rights had been “violated” because a bus transporting him from one place to another had not come with fully reclining seats.

Britain’s major complaint is a serious one. The UK is concerned about court rulings on immigration that prevented the country from protecting its citizens against terrorism. Terrorists who had entered the country illegally could not be deported.

But the problem today is that you can end up with someone who has no right to live in your country, who you are convinced – and have good reason to be convinced – means to do your country harm.

And yet there are circumstances in which you cannot try them, you cannot detain them and you cannot deport them.

By too zealous a protection of human rights the court was in danger of obtaining the opposite effect by alienating public opinion.

When controversial rulings overshadow the good and patient long-term work that has been done, that not only fails to do justice to the work of the Court … it has a corrosive effect on people’s support for human rights. The Court cannot afford to lose the confidence of the people of Europe.

Another problematic area is the penchant of the European Court of human rights to review cases that have gone through the entire appeals process in the national courts, adding yet another tribunal. The court “should not undermine its own reputation by going over national decisions where it does not need to.”

Finally Britain would like to see a reform in the judicial selection process. David Cameron did not go into details, but the current court is picked by having one judge for each of the 47 countries on the Council of Europe.This includes such repositories of judicial wisdom as Liechtenstein, San Marino, Monaco and Andorra. Twenty of the judges have no prior judicial experience.

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