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Friday, January 27, 2012 

We must stay bound by the "shackles of the human rights court".

Despite the briefing it received in advance, David Cameron's speech to the Council of Europe on reforming the European Court of Human Rights was fairly tame stuff. With the exception of his promotion of a "sunset clause", which it has been rightly pointed out could result in a denial of justice, the exact thing the ECHR is meant to prevent, it certainly wasn't the "savaging" the Sun described it as, nor did the elite seethe. The real problem we have is the "lively debate" Cameron referred to over human rights in this country, which translated means the insistence of the tabloids that we should have the right to send anyone back to wherever they came from if they're considered a threat - even if that means depositing them in a country in the middle of a civil war, or in the case of Abu Qatada, to face a trial where the evidence against him was in the ECHR's opinion overwhelmingly the product of torture.

The real danger of the Sun wanting to free us from the "shackles of the human rights court", a ironic sentence if there ever was one, is that if it were to come to that we would be doing the biggest disservice to those in the less free nations in eastern Europe. Figures compiled today show that comparatively, the decisions that go against the UK at the ECHR are relatively few. Indeed, more were dismissed than allowed. Turkey, by contrast, had 159 out of 174 decisions go against her, while Russia had 121 out of 133. Both France and Germany also had far more cases heard and go against them than the UK did, with the courting finding there had been a violation in 23 and 31 of the applications respectively. If those on the right got their way and we withdrew from the convention, then it can be guaranteed that Russia would do the same and point towards our decision in justification.

As right as Sir Nicolas Bratza was in criticising politicians for using "emotion and exaggeration" when taking on the ECHR, it also bears pointing out how they ignore cases which don't fit into the standard tabloid "'uman rights madness" archetype. It was only after the family of Christopher Alder went to the court that the government admitted they had been initially denied a proper independent investigation into his death, as well as accepting that the neglect he suffered at the hands of the police was so serious that it amounted to inhuman or degrading treatment, breaching article three of the convention. By all means reform the court so the backlog it currently has can be swiftly dealt with - what must not be allowed to happen is any dilution of its right to intervene in cases which "have been dealt with properly in the national courts", something liable to be highly subjective.

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"we would be doing the biggest disservice to those in the less free nations in eastern Europe. "

This argument won't work. The tabloids and tabloid-readers who oppose the ECHR aren't likely to be swayed by the argument that our withdrawal might jeopardise a few hypothetical foreigners, especially ones who mostly live in places where they don't go on holiday. We need a news outlet that highlights ECHR verdicts benefiting people they can identify with. Not likely with this press, but perhaps someone could start a blog that investigates and publishes tabloid-friendly ECHR verdicts?

A good idea. At the very least someone could set up a Twitter page highlighting specific cases.

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