Judges may be freed from European human rights rulings

British judges would be told that they are no longer "bound" by European human rights rulings under major reforms being considered by a government review.

The Telegraph understands that the first review of the Human Rights Act in 20 years is weighing up proposals to curb the influence of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in the UK.

The proposals are supported by senior lawyers as well as the Metropolitan Police, which warned that recent judgments meant officers’ time had been wasted investigating cases that will "never reach the threshold for prosecution" in case victims later made a complaint.

Lord Pannick, a leading human rights QC, has told the panel that ministers should amend the Human Rights Act to make clear in law that, while British judges should still take ECHR rulings "into account", they "shall not be bound" by decisions taken in Strasbourg.

Robert Buckland, the Justice Secretary, who commissioned the review, is understood to be "sympathetic" to the idea.

Robert Buckland, the Justice Secretary, who commissioned the review

Credit: Leon Neal/ Getty Images Europe

The change is likely to be backed by senior Tories who believe some judges have wrongly based their decisions on judgments of the European Court of Human Rights even when the European cases have little relevance on matters in the UK.

It is being examined by the Independent Human Rights Act Review, headed by former Court of Appeal judge Sir Peter Gross, which was commissioned by Mr Buckland in December and will issue a report this summer.

The panel is also considering an amendment to section three of the Human Rights Act which would prevent judges from effectively "rewriting legislation" deemed to contravene the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which the Act allows British judges to enforce in the UK.

The Conservatives’ 2019 election manifesto pledged to "update" the Act amid concerns that judges in Strasbourg have "overreached". Labour claims the review amounts to an "attack on human rights".

But the dominance of the European Court of Human Rights in the UK has been criticised by senior figures including Lord Judge, the former Lord Chief Justice, who has said that "Strasbourg should not always win".

Before entering government, Dominic Raab, now the Foreign Secretary, said there was "little point" in the UK Supreme Court "unless it has the final word on how the law of the land is applied".

A submission by Louise Rolfe, the Met assistant commissioner for operations, warned that, as a result of a 2018 court case known as DSD, police now "might face either human rights-based litigation or more general criticism if we do not exhaustively investigate, even where cursory investigation suggests a matter will never reach the threshold for prosecution".

She added: "This inhibits the police’s ability to prioritise investigation, which is exacerbated by concern about potential challenge or criticism from external parties or courts."

Dame Cressida Dick attended a meeting between police chiefs and members of the review panel

Credit: Kirsty O'Connor/PA

According to minutes of an April 13 meeting between police chiefs including Dame Cressida Dick and the review panel, officers said: "There is support for Lord Pannick’s submission … which suggests reminding courts, through amending the HRA, that ECtHR jurisprudence is not binding … If this was clearer at the time, cases such as DSD may have had a different outcome."

The Human Rights Act allows British courts to apply the ECHR, and says UK judges should "take account" of rulings by the European Court of Human Rights.

But senior ministers fear some judges have taken the instruction to mean that they should slavishly follow Strasbourg judgments, many of which relate to circumstances in other European countries that can appear far removed from cases being heard in UK courts.

Lord Pannick, a prominent supporter of the Human Rights Act, told the review: "I think it would be helpful to clarify section two to make clear that the domestic court or tribunal is not bound by a judgment of the ECtHR … I would therefore suggest that … after ‘must take into account’, the words ‘but shall not be bound by’ could usefully be inserted."

Minutes of the April 13 discussion attended by Dame Cressida, the Met Commissioner, record the police chief stating that the 2018 judgment meant "investigations have to be carried out in instances where the prosecution thresholds for offences are never likely to be met, but resources are still utilised to achieve the unachievable".

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *