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Strasbourg Court needs big changes
CAREFUL readers will recall that, in common with both main political parties, I do not believe that convicted prisoners, whilst in jail, should have any right to vote.
As Justice Secretary, I was faced with a ruling from the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg telling the UK that we were wrong.
I felt that the Strasbourg Court had over-reached itself.
It had been set up after the last war to ensure basic rights in countries controlled for years by fascists.
It had done a good job in this area.
But it was not there to second guess decisions of national courts in the functioning democracies of Europe, where the judiciary were plainly independent.
Our highest courts (under the Human Rights Act) had said whether prisoners could vote was up to the electors and Parliament, not unelected judges.
Much more serious than prisoner votes is whether “guests” in this country – those here as spouses, on work permits, unfounded asylum seekers – can be deported from the UK if they break our rules; and who should decide.
The man who, in Blackburn, killed young Amy Houston in a hit-and-run accident is a case in point.
Ministers said he must leave the UK.
He pleaded a “right to a family life” because, after he’d exhausted all rights to be here, he’d become a father by a local girl.
But our courts said they had to follow what the Strasbourg Court had laid down. He’s still here.
With senior Conservative David Davis MP, I went to see the presiding judges in Strasbourg shortly before Christmas – to press for the Court to rein itself back to its original purpose, and that it needed big changes in the way it operated, and who became judges.
This year – for the first time since 1992 – the UK has the Presidency of the Council of Europe (nothing to do with the EU), the Court’s parent body.
It gives us a once-in-a- generation chance to lead reform.
So I’m very pleased that Prime Minister David Cameron went out to Strasbourg yesterday to make that case.
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