UK is top dog in Strasbourg

first_imgIt is sweetly ironic that our Europhobic coalition government is in power at a time when the country holds two of the top positions at that bogeyman of the Tory shires – the Council of Europe (CoE) in Strasbourg, whose role it is to oversee the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). The UK, on 7 November, began chairing the Committee of Ministers, the influential policy-making body that sets the agenda for the 47 member states of the CoE. A few days earlier, British judge Sir Nicholas Bratza became president of the ECtHR, certain rulings of which have been known to make our dear prime minister feel ‘sick’. But that’s enough of Mr Cameron’s delicate nature. Let’s focus instead on what we can achieve now that we hold the reins of influence in Strasbourg. The committee that we have begun chairing is made up of elected parliamentarians from all 47 member states who periodically travel from their own countries to attend meetings. They are not, despite the ravings of certain newspapers, faceless unelected Eurocrats imposing laws upon our hapless country. From our position of influence, and with the full support of the committee, we are going to attempt to push through reforms to the ECtHR, which is massively overburdened. By way of illustration, in 2010 it decided 41,183 applications – a commendable achievement, you might think, except a further 139,650 applications were still left pending. One reform that has already been mooted in UK judicial and government circles is to ensure that only the most important cases come before the ECtHR. Member states should filter out less important cases and deal with them domestically. The ECtHR should become the court of last resort, we are arguing, rather than – as it is now – the default court. The committee under the UK’s chairmanship is also to look at a range of other efficiency measures to improve the court’s operation, while also seeking to strengthen the rule of law across Europe, combat discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity, support local and regional democracy, uphold freedom of expression on the internet, and generally support moves to reform the CoE overall. These are all long-term projects. In the short-term, starting with the first meeting of the committee under the UK’s chairmanship, scheduled for 25 November, we will lead discussions on such varied topics as the recent elections in Tunisia, the combating of all forms of religious discrimination, and – increasingly urgent as Greece struggles to survive – the challenges faced by small national economies. A busy time lies ahead, but what of contentious rulings from the ECtHR that have already told us to allow the vote to prisoners or to scrap control orders or to destroy the DNA records of people who were arrested but never charged? How can our populist newspapers sneer at unelected European do-gooders bent upon undermining all that is great in Great Britain when it is the Brits wot won the power in Strasbourg? They’ll find a way.last_img

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