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Judgment day looms on human rights law

The UK should withdraw from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) unless the Strasbourg court can significantly reform within two years, an influential think-tank has said.

The centre-right Policy Exchange called for the UK to open negotiations over the efficiency of the ECHR and the "judicial competence" of the judges.

When the ECHR ruled in 2008 that a conviction against Yusuf Salduz, in Turkey, should be quashed because he did not have access to a lawyer while being questioned, it paved the way for a ruling that fundamentally affected Scots law.

Lawyers for Peter Cadder, now 20, from Glasgow, who had been convicted of two assaults and a breach of the peace, used the same argument to win him the right to appeal at the Supreme Court.

That ruling last year made almost 3,500 convictions unsound in Scotland. All suspects are now given immediate access to a lawyer, and ministers doubled the length of time suspects can be held without charge.

The ECHR has also ruled that prisoners "slopping out" or being denied the right to vote was a breach of their human rights. Slopping out compensation cases have already cost the Scottish Government millions.

Lawyers warn more writs will follow if prisoners are denied the rights to vote in May's Holyrood elections. The ?issue will be debated in the House of Commons on Thursday.

The Policy Exchange's recommendations are endorsed by former law lord Lord Hoffmann, who wrote in the foreword to the report.

"International institutions which are set up by everyone become in practice answerable to no-one, and courts have an age-old tendency to try to enlarge their jurisdictions," he said.

• Euro rulings that strike at the heart of Scots law

"And so the Strasbourg court had taken upon itself an extraordinary power to micromanage the legal systems of the member states of the Council of Europe (or at any rate those which pay attention to its decisions] culminating, for the moment, in its decision that the UK is not entitled to have a law that convicted prisoners lose, among other freedoms, the right to vote."

The Policy Exchange report, written by Michael Pinto-Duschinsky, recommended that the UK should open negotiations with the Council of Europe to make "substantial reforms to the way that the court is run and its caseload managed".

"Such reforms would include new procedures to assure the judicial competence of new judges and the greater efficiency of the court," he said.

"If such negotiations are unsuccessful, the UK should consider withdrawing from Strasbourg and establishing the Supreme Court as the final appellate court for human rights law."

 
 
 

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