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Human rights: Britain plans reform

A leaked draft of a document which has been circulated to member states of the Council of Europe has demonstrated that the UK is planning to launch a reform agenda for the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

The document includes plans to wrestle power back from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), and to give national courts increased power to interpret decisions of the ECHR in their own way.

The document is 12 pages long, and was circulated to the 46 member nations of the council of Europe. It claims that changes to the way the ECHR operates would cut back on its caseload, freeing it up to concentrate on the most complex and important disputes, and empowering national legislatures to do more.

Britain is currently the chair nation of the Council of Europe, and has embarked on a diplomatic offensive to garner support for their reform agenda amongst other member states.

The Government hopes that by enacting reform now, it can avoid further embarrassment at the hands of the ECHR, such as it suffered in the recent deportation case of Muslim cleric, Abu Qatada.

Mr Qatada has escaped deportation to Jordan after the ECHR ruled that any trial he would face there on terror charges would be flawed, as evidence against him was obtained by the Jordanian authorities using torture.

The paper is entitled "High Level Conference on the Future of the European Court of Human Rights" and is due to be debated at a conference of international governments which is being held in Brighton in April. The conference is taking place at the end of the UK's six-month term of office in the Council of Europe.

The content of the document, although not finalised, will alarm civil liberties groups who believe that any watering-down of the powers of the ECHR would be bad for citizens of all member countries.

Commenting on the issue of reform, the director of the Open Society Initiative James Goldston, said: "States should refrain for now from further reform of the convention and rather enable, with additional resources as necessary, the registry and the committee of ministers to implement reforms already underway."

"They should improve the national execution of court judgments and implementation of the convention more generally," he added.

Related links:

Read more on the story (The Guardian)

Hierarchy of courts in the UK (FindLaw)

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