By Tim Montgomerie
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The European Court of Human Rights is a political hot potato. Whether Britain is instructed to give prisoners the right to vote or is told that it cannot deport radical cleric Abu Qatada the ECHR has enraged most Conservatives and most voters.
If David Cameron had been leading a Tory government he might have been able to act by now but our Liberal Democrat partners and key Conservatives – notably Ken Clarke and Dominic Grieve – will not allow him to do so.
Stuck between the irresistible force of popular anger and the immovable obstacle of Clegg'n'Clarke the Prime Minister did what every politician does when they are in a bind and set up an inquiry. The Commission – fulfilling a promise contained within the Coalition Agreement to look into establishing a British Bill of Rights – never looked likely to work. Its membership included Conservative supporters of reform and staunch Liberal Democrat and Labour opponents of any change. Unless delivery of a British Bill of Rights is tied to another Coalition promise – Lords reform – I doubt that this or English votes for English laws will make any progress.
On today's Sunday Politics one of the Conservative appointees – Dr Michael Pinto-Duschinsky – has resigned saying that the Commission is determined not to deliver on Cameron's ambition to ensure that the Westminster Parliament is ultimately sovereign on issues of human rights.
Dr Pinto-Duschinsky said that the Commission had only considered the issue of parliamentary sovereignty once in a whole year of deliberations. After asking for the Commission to refocus on the Prime Minister's mandate – to investigate a British Bill of Rights – Dr Pinto-Duschinsky was taken to a basement office in the House of Lords by its Chairman, Sir Leigh Lewis, and given a private warning not to behave like a "maverick".
He said that Ken Clarke's civil servants ran the Commission and the Justice Secretary – who, he alleged, was in the pocket of the human rights establishment – had his hands everywhere. He said that it was "depressing" to see other Tory Commissioners fall into line with the liberal Commissioners but that he was not prepared to choose the "quiet life" on such an important issue.
David Davis told the Sunday Politics' Giles Dilnot that the aim of a British Bill of Rights was not to dilute fundamental human rights but simply to bring oversight of human rights "back home" – under the purview of British politicians and expert British judges. I emphasise expert because a good number of ECHR judges have little to no judicial experience and are simply political appointees.
Iain Duncan Smith told Andrew Neil that Sir Leigh Lewis had previously worked for him at the Department of Work and Pensions and that he had found him to be a very straight public servant.
My suspicion is that this story will only grow legs if another Commissioner breaks ranks. This seems unlikely as the other Commissioners have recently written to Mr Clarke stating that "Dr Pinto-Duschinsky's continuing presence on the commission is significantly impeding its progress." More on the BBC website.