‘Overreaching’ ECHR plants seeds of its own destruction, says Lord Cameron

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) “overreaches itself” and so “plants the seeds of its own destruction”, Foreign Secretary David Cameron has said.

Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton told the House of Lords that, while the Government has no plans to reject the ECHR entirely, or leave the Council of Europe, there are “moments of extreme frustration”.

The former prime minister added that the Government “sees no inconsistency between its policies and our membership of the Council of Europe”.

“But – and it is a big but – there are occasions, in my view, when this court overreaches itself and we saw one last week with respect to climate change, where it took a judgment against Switzerland.

“And I think it’s dangerous when these courts overreach themselves, because ultimately we’re going to solve climate change through political will, through legislation in this House and the Commons, by the actions we take as politicians, by the arguments we put to the electorate – and so I do think there’s a danger of overreach.”

Former chancellor Ken Clarke noted that the only country to refuse to accept the jurisdiction of the ECHR is the “cruel dictatorship” of Belarus, with Russia being expelled from the Council of Europe.

Lord Clarke of Nottingham asked for a “simple categorical assurance on the part of the present Government that it will not, at any stage, contemplate just rejecting membership of the Council of Europe or rejecting the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights”.

Ken Clarke
Lord Clarke of Nottingham (Infected Blood Inquiry/PA)

“The point I’m making is there are moments of extreme frustration; he’ll remember serving in government with me when the ECHR ruled repeatedly that we had to give prisoners the vote.

“There’s nothing in the European Convention that says anything about giving prisoners the vote.

“To me, it is a decision for democratic parliaments. You can either decide everybody has the vote, irrespective of what crime you’ve committed, and that’s your position.

“That’s not my position; I think that if you commit a crime, you go to prison, you lose your right to vote. That is a perfectly reasonable, democratic, dare I say it, almost liberal position, which you should be entitled to hold.

“So when the court told us we couldn’t hold that opinion, we disagreed with vigour.

“These organisations are important, they do good work, but if they overreach they plant the seeds of their own destruction.”

His comments come after former home secretary Suella Braverman called for the UK to leave the ECHR in a speech to the National Conservatism conference in Brussels.

She said the Convention is incompatible with parliamentary democracy and the enforcing court is “profoundly undemocratic and politicised”.

She told attendees: “I wish the UK would do so now. Not only is it the right and necessary thing to do, it is also the politically expedient thing to do.

“Regrettably, the UK Government doesn’t have the political will to take on the ECHR and hasn’t laid the groundwork for doing so.”

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