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UK urged to withdraw from Europe rights court

UK think tank Policy Exchange [think tank website] called Monday for the UK to withdraw [text, PDF] from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] in favor of a domestic high court. Senior UK judge, Lord Leonard Hoffman, wrote the foreword, saying the "Strasbourg court has taken upon itself an extraordinary power to micromanage the legal systems of the member states," pointing specifically to a controversial ruling [JURIST report] that the UK could not take away convicted prisoner's right to vote. The report, written by former government adviser Dr. Michael Pinto-Duschinsky, explains that the ECHR has gradually grown in power. It calls for the UK to try to negotiate reforms with the court to limit its jurisdiction, and, if unsuccessful, states "the UK should consider withdrawing from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and establishing the Supreme Court in London as the final appellate court for human rights law." The UK currently incorporates the European Convention on Human Rights [text, PDF] into its law, but the ECHR has the final interpretation. The report suggests that, if the UK pulls out, a domestic court would be final arbiter on human rights issues, and there would be no right to appeal to the ECHR. Still, some legal experts in the UK say that severing ties with the European court would harm its commitment [BBC report] to protecting human rights and to the Council of Europe and the EU [official websites].

The ECHR and the UK have also clashed over the issue of extradition of terror suspects. Last month, the UK government's independent reviewer of terror laws published a report [JURIST report] saying that rulings from the ECHR made it difficult to remove foreign terror suspects from Britain. The ECHR refused to grant the government's request that a terror suspect be required to show that it is more likely than not that he would be subject to ill-treatment. The ruling lowered the suspect's burden of proving that he would be faced with ill-treatment upon returning to his home country. Last July, the ECHR stayed the extradition of four terrorism suspects [JURIST report] from the UK to the US, holding that potential punishment could violate Convention's provisions on the prohibition of torture and inhumane or degrading treatment.

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