About the Debate

 Michael-Mansfield QC  Jack-Straw  Kirsty-Brimelow  matthew-parris   

Against the motion:

Michael Mansfield QC, the UK’s leading defence lawyer

Rt Hon Jack Straw, Former Member of Parliament for Blackburn, former Home Secretary, Foreign Secretary and Secretary of State for Justice

For the motion:

Kirsty Brimelow QC, Doughty Street Chambers

Matthew Parris, Journalist, Broadcaster and former MP

Chaired by:

Axel Threlfall, Editor at Large, Reuters

Please note: Sides taken in the debate do not necessarily represent the views of speakers.


European Court of Human Rights is Undermining Democracy

The Conservative Party have campaigned for change to our human rights laws; Labour and the Liberal Democrats are against it.

The Conservatives have proposed giving parliament the right to veto judgments from European Court of Human Rights, curtailing the Court’s authority and allowing parliament to decide whether or not to adopt ECHR decisions.

This radical proposal has been driven by the view that the European Convention on Human Rights has become of a ‘charter for criminals’, abused by those convicted of serious offences. The Home Office revealed for example that in 2009, 5,535 foreign prisoners were deported, while 350 individuals succeeded in preventing their removal from the UK because of the ECHR. Those offenders argued that they may be at risk of torture or inhuman or degrading treatment if sent away, or that their right to respect for private and family life would be breached.

Many commentators have criticised the way the Court has treated the Convention as a ‘living instrument’. They point to the protection from state surveillance that now extends to cover the legal status of illegitimate children, immigration and deportation, extradition, aspects of criminal sentencing, abortion, homosexuality, assisted suicide, child abduction, the law of landlord and tenant and a great deal else.

Whatever the make-up of the new government, the ECHR’s perception problem won’t go away, and the Right will continue to ask how much influence the Court in Strasbourg should have over British judges. Is it impossible to avoid intervention from Strasbourg, short of withdrawing entirely from the Convention? Is the European Court of Human Rights undermining democracy in the UK?