THE Prime Minister launched a drive to reform the European Court of Human Rights yesterday, insisting it should meddle less in British affairs.
Speaking to the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, the Prime Minister called for reforms to ensure the court is not bogged down by trivial cases or interfere in decisions which are rightly a matter for national governments.
Mr Cameron’s initiative comes amid anger in the UK over rulings which blocked the deportation of extremist cleric Abu Qatada and required the extension of voting rights to prison inmates.
He acknowledged that some British criticism of the court’s application of the European Convention on Human Rights was based on “misinterpretation” but he insisted there was “credible democratic anxiety” that insufficient account is being taken of the decisions of national parliaments on issues such as prisoners’ votes.
Controversial rulings have “a corrosive effect on people’s support for human rights” and provoke anxiety the concept itself is being “distorted”, warned Mr Cameron, who also raised concerns over the backlog of more than 160,000 cases awaiting consideration at the Strasbourg court.
He told an audience of representatives of the 47-nation Council of Europe this was leading to delays stretching into years, and warned of the danger over the court giving litigants “an extra bite of the cherry” after they lost their cases in domestic courts.
With Britain taking the six-month presidency of the Council of Europe, Mr Cameron said there was a “once-in-a-generation chance” to reform the court so it remains “true to its original purpose” of upholding human rights, freedom and dignity.
“It is, of course, correct that the court should hold governments to account when they fail to protect human rights,” said Mr Cameron.
“But what we are all striving for is that national governments should take primary responsibility for safeguarding their citizens’ rights – and do it well.”
UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage later said Mr Cameron was “blustering to no avail”, as the UK cannot leave the ECHR while part of the EU.