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Britain is on the verge of obtaining approval for a set of reforms that would limit the ability of the European Court of Human Rights to overrule British judges in immigration cases.
Kenneth Clarke, the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, told the Daily Telegraph that the changes were intended to limit the use of the court to serious matters involving major points of law. “What we are trying to do is get the role of the court sorted out, so that it deals with serious human rights issues of the kind that require an international court,” he told the Telegraph.
“We want the court back to its proper business as an international court which takes up serious issues of principle when a member state or its courts or its parliament, are arguably in serious breach of the [European Human Rights] convention.”
As things currently stand, many people who lose their deportation cases appeal to the ECHR. They are then allowed to stay in the UK while their case makes its way through the lengthy process of appealing to Strasbourg. The British government believes that such appeals are more dilatory than anything else, and the UK’s courts are perfectly capable of applying the European Convention on Human Rights.
The planned reforms seek to expedite the process of deciding which appeals to hear and would limit the ECHR to taking cases of great legal importance. Britain is in a good position to seek these reforms since they have just taken up the chairmanship of the Council of Europe, the body that oversees the Court. Furthermore, a number of European countries are said to back these changes.
“A lot of member states have been pushing for similar things, and a lot of them believe a British chairmanship is the best time to deliver it, and they think we’re the best hope of drawing this to a conclusion,” Clarke said.
Europe has long been a divisive issue within the British Conservative Party, and there is a widespread belief among its members that the European Convention on Human Rights is frequently abused by criminals. Last month, there was a very public spat between Clarke and Home Secretary Theresa May over a case where the courts allegedly ruled that an immigrant could not be deported because he owned a cat.
In the past, Prime Minister David Cameron had pledged to repeal the Human Rights Act (which enshrines the European Convention on Human Rights in British law) and replace it with a British Bill of Rights, but such a move was blocked by his Liberal Democrat coalition partners. However, a move to limit the jurisdiction of the ECHR would help mollify angry Conservative backbenchers.