Op-Ed: Now Cameron takes on the European Court of Human Rights

Posted Jan 26, 2012 by Alexander Baron
Britain's style over substance Prime Minister is yet again doing something meaningful: telling the European Court of Human Rights to keep its nose out of the nation's affairs.
David Cameron  Prime Minister of the United Kingdom  at the World Economic Forum
David Cameron, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, at the World Economic Forum
Word Economic Forum
The European Court of Human Rights is a favourite target of the right wing tabloids; much of this criticism is unfair. Prisoners serving long sentences still have rights, even convicted murderers, and it is a thankless task for anyone to defend the rights of such at times odious people. Nevertheless, there have been occasions when the European magnates have poked in their noses where they are clearly not wanted.
In 1999, the ECtHR ruled that Robert Thompson and Jon Venables had not received a fair trial because they had been tried in public and as adults. That in spite of the fact that they had each received a tariff of a mere eight years, and were later released without spending a day in prison. Clearly the British legal establishment shared the view of the public that the premeditated kidnapping and brutal murder of a 2 year old boy, even by two 10 year olds, was an adult crime and deserved to be treated as such.
In 1967, Dennis Stafford and Michael Luvaglio were convicted of the premeditated and planned execution of Angus Sibbet; unlike Troy Davis who was executed, or Mumia Abu-Jamal, who spent close to 30 years on death row for a spur of the moment murder, these two having been sentenced to life imprisonment were parolled after a mere 12 years. Luvaglio sinned no more, but Stafford was soon back in prison.
In March 1991 he was released again, then in July 1994 he was sentenced to 6 years for currency and forgery offences. In Britain, life sentence prisoners who are parolled remain on licence for the rest of their lives. In view of Stafford's appalling record, the Home Secretary decided he should remain behind bars, but the European Court over-ruled him. Stafford was parolled again, and because of this judgment, so was Satpal Ram, another convicted murderer whom a later Home Secretary had decided should stay in prison beyond his tariff. A tariff is in any case only a recommended minimum sentence. Like Stafford, Ram had no intention of becoming a model citizen, and is now back behind bars where he belongs.
Earlier this month, the ECtHR heard appeals by three convicted killers including Jeremy Bamber who murdered 5 members of his family for financial gain. They had argued that their whole life tariffs constituted “inhuman or degrading treatment”. For once, the ECtHR got it right, and rejected their appeals, but many people, including lawyers and powerful politicians, believe decisions of this nature made about men who have been convicted of truly heinous crimes are a matter for the British courts alone.
While the British Government takes no exception to the ECtHR's judgment in the case of these three men, Prime Minister Cameron in particular was incensed that it ruled against the Government in the case of so-called radical preacher Abu Qatada. Although he has committed no crime in Britain, the Government would like to deport him to Jordan where he was convicted of terrorist offences in abstentia, but the Strasbourg court has ruled it cannot because to do so would breach his human rights.
In addition to Abu Qatada, there is said to be a backlog of a staggering 150,000 cases waiting to be decided by Strasbourg, and this has in effect turned it into a small claims court, as obviously the overwhelming majority of them can only be trivial in comparison with the cases of the Abu Qatadas and Jeremy Bambers of this world.
There is also the not so little matter of unelected foreigners overturning decisions by a democratically elected British Government, something that also has ramifications for other member states, for surely neither the citizens nor most politicians of Albania, Hungary or Portugal want to see their mandates trampled on by the same cabal of woolly minded, ultra-liberal jurists.
It remains to be seen how much support Cameron will be able to muster for his mini-rebellion, although at the moment he is adopting a diplomatic tone. There are those though who say we should get out of the European Court and indeed out of Europe altogether. Hopefully, if Cameron's voice of reason fails, more bellicose ones will come to the fore, and will match their fiery talk with deeds. Having said that, don't hold your breath in the meantime.