David Cameron has made the knee-jerk statement that the European Court of Human Rights should not make judgements on cases that have been dealt with by the courts in Britain. He also asked for a better filtering system for cases that are tried in the court.
Cameron’s comments come after last weeks decision by the ECHR to stop the extradition of Abu Qatada to Jordan on the grounds that evidence at his trial may have been obtained through torture. There have also been numerous mutterings from within the Tory party about the UK’s current relationship with the ECHR and many extraordinarily misinformed articles in the right-wing press.
Now the UK government is in a position to do something about their perceived problem as they have taken over the six monthly chairmanship of the Council of Europe, which oversees the ECHR.
This seems like another example of Cameron’s populist tendencies coming through. The idea that the ECHR should not look at cases that have already been dealt with in Britain is absurd beyond belief. That is exactly what the court is designed to do and has done effectively in the past. We should not forget that it was the ECHR who ruled that the highly controversial interrogation methods used during the Troubles in Northern Ireland in the seventies were in breach of the Convention on Human Rights after the UK had dismissed the case.
I would also advise Mr Cameron to stop reading the Daily Mail and the Telegraph so much, as their anti-European bent leads to a great deal of misinformation being published in their pages. Both papers made the extraordinary and unfounded claim that the British government is defeated in three out of every four cases brought against it in the ECHR. Given the fact that, as published by the ECHR which you can read here, 84% of all cases brought to the court are deemed inadmissible, that 75% claimed by the Mail and Telegraph is probably more like 2%.
The fact is that if Abu Qatada would have been tried using evidence obtained through torture then we are obligated not to send him to Jordan. We can’t have a set of rules, but ignore it if the person in question is really awful. That is not how free and open democracies work