In the Media

British courts will be able to ignore European human rights rulings, says Dominic Grieve

PUBLISHED December 2, 2009

Courts will be able to ignore European rulings on human rights under Conservative plans to give power back to British judges, Dominic Grieve, the shadow justice secretary, said. 
Mr Grieve said in a speech that the current Human Rights Act had been ?interpreted as requiring a degree of deference to Strasbourg that I believe was and should be neither required nor intended?.

Instead, he said, a new Bill of Rights - which would replace the Human Rights Act - would make clear that British courts could allow for UK common law to take precedence over decisions by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

The law needs to recognise that rights do not exist without responsibilities Speaking at Middle Temple in central London, Mr Grieve said: ?We would want to reword it to emphasise the leeway of our national courts to have regard to our own national jurisprudence and traditions and to other common law precedents while still acknowledging the relevance of Strasbourg Court decisions.?

The new legislation, which would only be introduced if the Tories win the next election after a Green Paper was published, would be built on the foundation of the existing European Convention on Human Rights, but with a rebalancing to ensure that British law

He said: ?My own inclination would be to use the Convention rights as currently drafted, as a starting point. To do otherwise appears to me to risk pointless confusion.?

Mr Grieve complained that ?the speed of the enactment? of the current Human Rights Act led ?to insufficient debate and resulted in the deficit of popular and political understanding of its implications which has caused many of the present problems of its lack of acceptance.

The new Bill of Rights would allow ?offer us an opportunity to protect rights and liberties which are not covered by the ECHR at all and which form part of our core values.

?These could include the right to trial by jury for indictable offences and limits on the power of the state to impose administrative sanctions without due process of law, thus curbing a worrying trend towards fixed penalty notices and other extra judicial penalties for criminal offences of dishonesty and violence.?

Campaigners welcomed the plans. David Green, the director of the Civitas, a right of centre thinktank, said: ?Dominic Grieve is thinking along the right lines. We cannot and should not renounce the European Convention as a whole.

?The problem is the way in which its terms have been extended beyond the meaning intended by the framers, who had in mind a very small number of vital constraints on power such as the prohibition of torture.

?When our own judges are uncertain about the meaning of our statutes they try to resolve the doubt by asking what was Parliament?s intention. But human rights judges do not seem to ask what the framers intended.

?Instead they seize the opportunity to make up new laws as they go along. In doing so they subvert the right of the people to make their own laws through Parliament.?

The Human Rights Act, which became law in 2000, was intended to place a legal framework around citizens? most important rights.

But the legislation has since been blamed for allowing terrorism suspects to take refuge in Britain, preventing the deportation of foreign prisoners and even stopping police forces from revealing the identities of criminals on the run.

In October, Keir Starmer, the Director of Public Prosecutions, made a highly unusual and unprecedented attack on the Conservative plans by insisting that scrapping the Human Rights Act would bring ?shame? on Britain.

Mr Starmer said the principles enshrined in the Act were ?fundamental? and the suggestion that it should be abolished was based on ?flawed analysis?.

In a speech to mark his first 12 months as DPP, Mr Starmer said: ?I find myself in difficulty when I hear talk of the need to 're-engineer? or 'rebalance? the criminal justice system.