Following the controversial ruling last year that inmates in British prisons must be allowed to vote – a decision that was overwhelmingly rejected by the UK parliament - the British government has dramatically stepped up its campaign to push for far reaching changes in the way the ECHR functions.
On taking over the role of overseer the UK has formed an alliance with Switzerland, where voters have stuck by their government’s decision to deport foreign criminals despite an ECHR ruling to the contrary.
In a document circulated by the UK and Swiss foreign offices to the 47 member states, the two governments warn that the international body must be drastically reformed to “address growing public and political concern” and to abstain from interfering in cases that “do not need to be dealt with at the European level”. The report says, “urgent action is needed in order to avoid further damage to the reputation and effectiveness of the convention system.”
The British government, which has become increasingly frustrated with the extent to which the ECHR has interfered in national policy and court rulings, has gone so far as to threaten an intention to walk away from the ECHR completely.
The ECHR is currently struggling under a vast backlog of cases and losing much of its popularity as it continues to routinely interfere in national cases. Too many desperate claimants are using the court as a last resort when they feel let down by their own national legal system.
The blueprint of the UK/Swiss report has been submitted to an intergovernmental committee of Council of Europe representatives for deliberation. All members have agreed in principle that substantial reform is required to improve the workings and reputation of the ECHR.
Some have argued that the reforms, which would restrict the right of individual petition, would undermine the role played by the court. They claim that the current overload of applications in Strasbourg is due to the failure of member states to implement the Convention effectively at home – better application at home would automatically ease the workload of the court.
The UK will hold the role of overseer until May this year. During that time, they are keen to push through the proposed reforms to the body since both pro-Europeans and eurosceptics believe that its practices need overhauling.
Although it is almost undeniable that some operational reforms are necessary, states must not get carried away with private grudges concerning the perceived “over-reaching” powers of the court. It remains imperative that the reforms in no way restrict the ability of the court to safeguard the human rights of the 800 million under its protection.