Archive for the ‘British Judges & Europe’ Category

British Judges & European Court Rulings

vendredi, décembre 23rd, 2011

The free movement of goods, services and citizens of member states is guaranteed by treaty within the European Union (EU). However, British politicians remain wary of rulings by judges from the European Court of Justice (ECJ) or the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), impacting legislation in the UK.
Most recently Lord Irvine of Lairg, the former Labour Lord Chancellor who introduced the Human Rights Act, said judges had erroneously assumed that they must comply with the European Court of Human Rights. Parliament had intended them to be free to make their own decisions when it passed the Act, Lord Irvine said in a lecture organised by the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law and hosted by the UCL Judicial Institute. Section 2 of the Human Rights Act was pivotal in the relationship between the Courts, Parliament and the ECHR. The Section states that when deciding a human rights issue, the Courts must take account of any judgement of the ECHR which could, however, be paraphrased as have regard to, consider, treat as relevant or bear in mind.
Such independence is evident in the Harry Shindler voting rights claim brought before the ECHR, with the British government defence resting on their counter claim that the right to universal suffrage is not yet considered a basic human right within the European electoral heritage. Another example is the recent judgement against James Preston in his voting rights case against the British government in the High Court in London, which considered that his disenfranchisement after 15 years does not constitute a deterrence to his free movement e.g. to work or live within the European Union.
Britain was also said, in an article in the Times of 16th December 2011, to have won a crucial victory when European judges admitted that they should not overrule the traditional use of hearsay evidence in the criminal courts. In what was hailed in the article as a landmark judgement, the ECHR said that the use of hearsay evidence in criminal trials ? when witnesses cannot attend in person ? did not breach the rights of defendants. This decision averted a clash between the UK Supreme Court and the Strasbourg-based court, which had previously ruled that the use of such evidence was a breach of the right to a fair trial. However, the Grand Chamber, or appeal court, of the European Court of Human Rights, said that the use of hearsay evidence did not automatically breach the human rights of defendants. The appeal court judges, therefore, seemed to step back and acknowledge the importance of local legal systems, in this case that of the UK on appeal by the British government, in the cases of two men jailed in the UK mainly or wholly on the basis of witness statements. There was no breach of article 6 of the Human Rights Convention, which covers the right to a fair trial.