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It would make a mockery of justice but foreign judges could rule that Britain’s mass murderers have a human right to be set free
22:34 GMT, 26 November 2012
Killer: Douglas Vinter murdered a work colleague and then brutally stabbed his wife to death once he was released
Tomorrow, three convicted murderers will argue before the European Court of Human Rights that their life sentences should no longer mean life, since this would amount to ‘inhuman treatment’, breaching their human rights.
Never mind the inhuman treatment that these particularly foul murderers meted out to their victims.
One of them, Douglas Vinter, killed a work colleague, and when released on parole brutally stabbed his own wife to death. Yet this double murderer, who has served just three years of his second term, still petitions for his release.
When the death penalty was abolished, Parliament said life should mean life for the most appalling of crimes.
Our courts have upheld whole-life tariffs. But a foreign court could overrule our own institutions, and demand the release of killers, including the Moors Murderer Ian Brady, the Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe, Rosemary West and Levi Bellfield, the killer of teenager Milly Dowler.
The judges of the European Court narrowly rejected the murderers’ first appeal by four votes to three. Let’s hope the Court’s final decision, in its Grand Chamber, is the same. Because if it isn’t, the Government would have no choice but to comply.
The Court has already shown itself inclined to interpret rights in favour of prisoners. Last week it obliged the Government to introduce proposals to give inmates the vote.
But the franchise isn’t the only gift from Strasbourg. Prisoners are also now entitled to sweet-smelling jails.
The Court ruled that the smell from a waste tip next to a Romanian jail caused ‘discomfort’ to an inmate. The stale air didn’t damage his health, but his ‘quality of life and well-being were affected to the detriment of his private life’. The fraudster who brought this claim was rewarded with 6,500 damages.
Most of us will agree that decisions such as this distort human rights. But what can be done while this supranational court rules
Does freedom await A foreign court could overrule our own institutions, demanding the release of killers such as the Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe (left) and Ian Brady (right)
There’s nothing wrong with the European Convention on Human Rights itself. Forged after the horrors of World War II, it sets out fundamental rights, such as a prohibition on torture, with which we all agree.
But after the Convention came the Court, to which complainants were then given direct access, and which gradually took more and more power to itself.
It declared that the Convention was a ‘living instrument’ which its judges, many of them without judicial experience, could freely expand.
As the eminent former Law Lord, Lord Hoffman, said: ‘The Strasbourg Court has taken upon itself an extraordinary power to micromanage the legal systems of the member states of the Council of Europe.’
He went on to warn that: ‘The very concept of human rights is being trivialised by silly interpretations.’
Lord Hoffman has claimed: 'The very concept of human rights is being trivialised by silly interpretations'
The result has been a rights contagion, where once-cherished freedoms have become weapons of grievance. Today, everyone knows their rights, yet few admit their responsibilities.
For example, the morbidly obese don’t eat less or slim — they simply claim the NHS’s refusal to give them gastric bands breaches their rights.
Also, lawyers are busy encouraging legally aided criminals to pursue every possible claim.
Exacerbated by Labour’s Human Rights Act, rights are increasingly treated as a new religion, leading to unquestioning compliance by public officials.
As a Minister in this Government, I had to overrule a ludicrous decision that naming prisoners on the run would breach their rights.
Previously, police and Government officials had refused to identify such offenders for fear of breaching data protection or human-rights rules.
From the reaction to my move from some quarters, you would have thought I had proposed to execute the criminals rather than simply publicise details of those designated as ‘unlawfully at large’.
Last year, reforms proposed by our Government were agreed that were intended to stop the Strasbourg judges behaving, in David Cameron’s words, like ‘a small-claims court’.
This means petty complaints, such as the one by a traveller who wasn’t provided a fully reclining seat on a bus journey, should no longer be heard.
But even if the reforms succeed in reducing a backlog of 160,000 claims, the European Court will still be able to impose judgments on us.
And that’s the rub. Eventually, Britain will be declared in breach for refusing prisoners the vote, and the Court will award them compensation which could run into tens, or even hundreds, of millions of pounds.
Decisions by the Strasbourg court that undermine our national security are of even greater concern.
Our inability to remove those who threaten our country is an outrage.
For example, after eight years, the Islamic extremist Abu Hamza’s extradition to the United States was finally permitted.
But Abu Qatada, a man described by a High Court judge as ‘a truly dangerous individual’, is still here. It’s deeply ironic that these preachers of hate who so despise our Western democracy think nothing of sheltering under its protections.
In this so-called ‘asymmetric lawfare’, those who threaten our country are able to use public funds and every possible legal device to prevent their being brought to justice, while governments struggle to fulfil their fundamental duty to protect the public.
Still smiling: Abu Qatada, a man described by a High Court judge as 'a truly dangerous individual', still remains on English soil
We can’t go on like this. It’s time to face up to the issue and pull out of the European Court’s jurisdiction altogether.
After all, we have guarded our liberties successfully since Magna Carta.
It was Parliament that defended the right to trial by jury, abolished the slave trade and gave equal voting rights to women.
And since we now have a Supreme Court, too, why can’t we allow it to be supreme
Then, when Parliament legislates and our courts adjudicate, that will be the end of the matter, without having cases taken to Strasbourg.
U-turn Last year, reforms proposed by our Government were agreed with an intent to rid the court of having to hear petty complaints
Together, our own institutions are more than capable of guarding important rights in this country. For their part, apologists for the European Court say that if Britain pulls out, we will be an international pariah, having turned our back on human rights.
But that’s nonsense. We will still apply the principles of the Convention on Human Rights, but through our own UK Bill of Rights, allowing for sensible interpretation that respects our democracy.
It’s also argued that our withdrawal would encourage other countries in Europe not to abide by the Court. But the truth is that they don’t obey it, anyway.
There are 8,000 unimplemented Strasbourg judgments, almost all against other countries.
It’s far worse to be party to a system where the rule of law is routinely undermined than to secure proper arrangements where the law is upheld.
The European Court, and the human-rights industry that drives it, are the architects of their own misfortune. It is they who have stretched rights and over-reached the Court’s original purpose.
It is they who have caused the very words ‘human rights’ to be sneered at when the concept should be revered.
Recently, I heard a brave Zimbabwean speak movingly about the threats and violence he has faced for exposing brutality in his country’s blood-diamond mines. It is terrible abuses of human rights such as these around the world that we need to address.
Indeed, none of us should want to see the principle of human rights devalued in the eyes of the public.
Pulling out of the European Court would be a way of seeing those rights redeemed.
Nick Herbert is MP for Arundel & South Downs and a former Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice.