UK's Cameron launches new battle with Europe
LONDON - The Associated Press
Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron waits to welcome his Italian counterpart Mario Monti outside 10 Downing Street, in central London, January 18, 2012. REUTERS PhotoThe European Court of Human Rights needs major reform to prevent it unnecessarily meddling in the affairs of individual nations, Britain's prime minister plans to say Wednesday in a new swipe at Europe's power bases.
According to extracts of a speech scheduled to be delivered to the Council of Europe â€” the 47-member bloc based in Strasbourg, France â€” David Cameron plans to sharply criticize judges for overstepping their powers.
Britain has frequently tussled with the court in recent years, most notably on prisoner voting rights and over attempts to deport suspected terrorists to countries with patchy human rights records.
Cameron's attack follows his decision in December to snub colleagues at the European Union, choosing to become the only leader among the bloc's 27 members to refuse to join a fiscal pact aimed at solving Europe's debt crisis.
Though isolated in Europe, Cameron was feted at home for his refusal to back the deal under which nations submit their budgets for central EU review and limit the deficits they can run.
Bolstered by a deep seam of skepticism over ties to Europe among his Conservative Party, the senior member of Britain's coalition government, Cameron is now taking aim at the continent's judges.
"The court should hold us all to account, it should not undermine its own reputation by going over national decisions where it does not need to," Cameron planned to say, according to the excerpts. "For the sake of the 800 million people the court serves, we need to reform it so that it is true to its original purpose." Britain claims that the court has a backlog of about 150,000 cases created because judges are taking on too many small scale challenges to decisions made by national courts.
"The court should be free to deal with the most serious violations of human rights, it should not be swamped with an endless backlog," Cameron planned to say.
Britain currently holds the rotating chairmanship of the Council of Europe, and plans to use the position to press the court to scale back its work.
The defining principle of European justice should be that "where possible, final decisions should be made nationally," Cameron planned to say.
Cameron has previously said it had made him "physically ill" when Britain was ordered by the European court in 2010 to overturn a centuries-old law and allow prisoners to vote in national elections. That decision has not yet been implemented.
Last week, the court blocked Britain's deportation to Jordan of extremist cleric Abu Qatada, described as one of Europe's leading al-Qaida figures, over fears evidence obtained through torture would be used against him in Jordanian courts.
In May 2010, the court also prevented the alleged ringleader of an al-Qaida bomb plot and another man regarded by authorities as a serious threat to national security from being sent by Britain to their native Pakistan.
Nicolas Bratza, president of the European Court, said it would be "surprising if all its decisions were popular with the government of the day, or indeed understood and accepted by public opinion." Writing an op-ed article published Tuesday in The Independent newspaper, he accused Cameron of failing to recognize the court's success in advancing human rights.
"It is disappointing to hear senior British politicians lending their voices to criticisms more frequently heard in the popular press, often based on a misunderstanding of the court's role and history, and of the legal issues at stake," he wrote.