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Human rights: Rule to allow override of EU court decisions would be 'totally destructive'

The President of the European Court of Human Rights has spoken out to warn the UK that plans to create an override for EU decisions in UK courts would be totally destructive of the entire human-rights system.

Campaigners in the UK have argued for years that British courts, and those of other member states so-minded, should have the ability to veto or override decisions of the European Court that they disagree with.

Speaking after Prime Minister David Cameron's address last week to the Council of Europe, Sir Nicolas Bratza said that despite some news reports to the contrary, there is no open conflict between the European court and its UK counterparts.

Sir Bratza praised the Prime Minister's speech, saying that there was much in it which the European Court could subscribe to.

He agreed for example that the EU court's case-load backlog was unacceptably long, and that the court should not act simply as an immigration tribunal for complex cases. He also agreed that the EU court should not substitute its own judgments for those of a reasonable national court. However, he rejected that this was happening in practice.

However, Sir Bratza spoke out against those who would see decisions of the European Court overridden.

"One of the central pillars of the Council of Europe and the convention on Human Rights is that of the rule of law. The rule of law must mean that where a court decides and delivers a final and binding judgment, it is complied with, whether it is approved of or not by the authorities concerned," he said.

One of the key current cases under consideration concerns the right of prisoners to vote in general elections. This right is currently denied in the UK and in many countries around Europe.

The European Court is currently hearing an appeal from an Italian case which could mean Britain putting an end to its blanket ban on prisoners' voting rights. Mr Cameron has previously stated that giving prisoners the vote would make him feel physically sick.

Related links:

Read more on the story (The Guardian)

Hierarchy of courts in the United Kingdom (FindLaw)

Find local human rights solicitors throughout the UK (FindLaw)