Press release

UK delivers European court reform

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The UK’s pledge to reform the European Court of Human Rights has been successfully fulfilled, Secretary of State for Justice Kenneth Clarke announced today

Speaking at the Council of Europe Conference in Brighton, where historic reforms to the Court and the Convention were agreed, Mr Clarke said:

‘These reforms represent a substantial package of reform and are a significant step towards realising the goals that the Prime Minister set out in Strasbourg.

‘Taken together, these changes should mean fewer cases being considered by the court. Those that it considers should be allegations of serious violations or major points of interpretation of the Convention and will be processed without the scandalous delays we are seeing at present.

‘The court will not normally intervene where national courts have clearly applied the Convention properly. These reforms strengthen the commitment of all the member states to the obligations of the Convention and will improve the ability of the Court to enforce these obligations sensibly.’

Attorney General Dominic Grieve said:

“This Declaration makes clear that the primary responsibility for guaranteeing human rights rests with the government, parliament and courts of a country. It sets out clearly that the Court should not routinely overturn the decisions made by national authorities - and it should respect different solutions and different approaches between states as being legitimate.

‘The Court is there to ensure the highest protection of fundamental rights. This agreement secures this vital position for the court and will allow it to do the job it was created to do and protect individuals across Europe from state oppression.’

Reform of the Court was one of the key priorities for the UK’s chairmanship of the Council of Europe and the foundations of today’s reforms were laid in a speech given to the Court by Prime Minister David Cameron in a speech earlier this year.

In that speech, the Prime Minister outlined the challenges faced by the court as being:

  • The Court should be free to deal with the most serious violations of human rights; it should not be swamped with an endless backlog of cases
  • The Court should ensure that the right to individual petition counts; it should not act as a small claims court or Court of Fourth Instance
  • The Court should hold us all to account; it should not undermine its own reputation by going over national decisions where it does not need to.

The agreement will tackle each of these issues by:

  • Amending the Convention to include the principles of subsidiarity and the margin of appreciation
  • Amending the Convention to tighten the admissibility criteria- so that trivial cases can be thrown out and the focus of the Court can be serious abuses
  • Reducing the time limit for claims from six months to four
  • Improving the selection process for judges
  • Setting out a roadmap for further reform.

Notes to Editors:

  1. Read the Brighton Declaration on the Council of Europe website.

  2. For more information please call the Ministry of Justice Press Office on 0203 334 3536.