Brian Binley is Conservative MP for Northampton South and a UK delegate to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. After the House of Commons voted in defiance of the ECHR ruling on giving the vote to prisoners, Christos Pourgourides – a Cypriot who chairs the Council of Europe's Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights – was quoted as saying that he had hoped that "the Parliament of one of Europe’s oldest democracies – regarded as playing a leading role in protecting Human Rights – would have encouraged the United Kingdom to honour its international obligations". Here Brian Binley responds to him in the form of an open letter.
Dear Mr. Pourgourides,
I am sure I don’t need to remind you of the case of Mr Imad Al Khawaya, a British Medical Consultant, who was convicted in a British Court of assaulting two of his patients whilst they were under the influence of hypnosis some six years ago.
One of his victims, who suffered from multiple sclerosis and thereafter committed suicide before the trial, had given testimony to a legal officer which was properly allowed to be submitted to the Court as evidence.
The disgraced doctor thereafter appealed to the European Court of Human Rights who ruled that his human rights had been violated because he had not been able to cross examine the victim who had died and he was duly awarded compensation.
No wonder the remaining victim asked “where are my human rights?”
I could quote many other equally farcical judgements which have not only brought the Court into disrepute in the UK but across Western Europe but I am sure you are well aware of them.
Many of Britain’s most eminent jurists are now questioning the credibility of the Court.
The former Law Lord, Lord Hoffman, who has been widely quoted on the issue, has lately argued that the Court seems to be “laying down a federal law of Europe.”
Lord Phillips, head of our newly created Supreme Court, warned that Strasbourg faced defiance of its ruling’s unless it reconsidered some of them and Lord Hope added “we won’t lie down in front of what they tell us.”
Lord Judge, the Lord Chief Justice, said it would be wrong for the Court to be given precedence over Britain’s own courts.
These are serious lawyers voicing serious concerns and I could quote many more. You would do well to take them seriously yourself not least because you clearly value the efficacy of our institutions as your comments suggest. Consequently, to do otherwise would be illogical.
But the real concern doesn’t spring from the uttering’s of politicians or lawyers. It resounds in the voice of the people who are beginning to express distaste every time the ECHR hits the headlines and that concern doesn’t only relate to the Court but to the wider European institutions.
The foolishness of the Court regarding its seemingly apparent wish to micro-manage all law vaguely related to Human Rights without thought for national practices or traditions is potentially damaging to the harmony of the E.U. itself.
The writers of the Convention, way back in the 1940s, would have been horrified to learn of the extent to which the Court now feels it right to dabble in local matters and would be equally concerned at the way it seems to turn justice on its head and change perpetrators into victims.
The Convention was initially designed to ensure that the abhorrent abuses of European Dictators of the twentieth century would never be inflicted upon our peoples again and I am sure we all pay tribute to the Court for the work it has done in that respect over the years.
However, it’s time we paid heed to the expressions of the people themselves who are beginning to feel a little unnerved at the direction of travel the Court is now taking and the interpretations it is sometimes delivering.
It’s about time we recognised that the Court isn’t a perfect body above sanction but a Court of Law which operates with the assent of the people and not in spite of them.
Of course the ECHR plays an important role within British and European jurisprudence.
Of course its projection and protection of Human Rights is vital to our social wellbeing.
But, equally, the peoples' representatives need to review and to fine tune the ECHR from time to time as they would with any other institution.
Perhaps the time has come to do just that whilst at the same time understanding that blind adherence to a faltering structure simply aids its demise. I am certain none of us want that point to be reached. Do we?
Brian Binley MP
UK Delegate of the Council of Europe