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UK top judge: national courts not bound by Europe rights court

The UK's top judge, Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales Lord Igor Judge [official profile], said on Wednesday that UK courts are not bound by decisions from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website]. Speaking before the Lords Constitution Committee [official website], Judge suggested that while UK courts are not required to follow the ECHR [Guardian report], they should consider ECHR decisions when deciding cases. UK Supreme Court [official website] President Nicholas Phillips [official profile] countered Judge, saying that ECHR decisions will always control UK courts as long as the Human Rights Act of 1998 [text], which ratified the European Convention on Human Rights [text, PDF], remains in effect. UK Prime Minister David Cameron [official website] has expressed frustration at previous ECHR decisions and may use the UK's upcoming presidency of the Council of Europe [official website] to influence changes in the court [Telegraph report].

The UK government and the ECHR have faced increasing conflict. In March, the UK Ministry of Justice [official website] announced the creation of a commission, suggested by Cameron, which will consider the implementation of a British Bill of Rights [statement, text]. Former UK Lord Chief Justice Lord Woolf has warned that a Bill of Rights would conflict [JURIST report] with the European Convention on Human Rights, which the UK has incorporated into its law. While the government has not stated an intention to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights, Woolf warned that continued adherence to the convention combined with the creation of Bill of Rights would create complications for judges in determining which to follow and further the existing conflict between the UK and the ECHR. Cameron suggested the creation of the commission in February after the UK House of Commons [official website] voted to reject an ECHR ruling [JURIST reports] and continue preventing prisoners from voting in British elections. The following month, the UK government took legal action to overturn [JURIST report] the ECHR ruling.

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