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Priti Patel MP

Priti Patel MP: Ministers should reject ECHR judgements that undermine the sovereignty of our Parliament

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Priti Patel is MP for Witham, and an elected Member of the Conservative Party Board, the 1922 Committee’s Executive and the Public Administration Select Committee

The European Court of Human Rights’ ruling on life sentences was deeply disturbing and disgraceful. To have European judges demand that we scrap our system of life sentences and give the country’s most evil killers the real prospect of having their sentences reviewed and the hope of release is sickening. These judges have claimed that life sentences were inhumane and degrading unless there was “both a prospect of release and a possibility of review.” They also believe that prisoners serving life sentences should “be offered the possibility of rehabilitation and the prospect of release if that rehabilitation is achieved” and that life sentences are “incompatible with...human dignity.” Few in Britain would agree with these sentiments and most would rather see these killers, who took away the lives and dignity of their victims, stay behind bars.

As a result of these judges’ obsession with supporting the demands of Britain’s most vile and heinous killers, this decision has now quite rightly reignited the debate about whether the UK should remain part of the ECHR and the future of human rights laws in this country. It is a debate we must have and one the Conservative Party should be leading. But as shocking as this decision was, the judgement did not surprise those of us who have warned of this undemocratic Court’s meddling in our affairs.

For too long the ECHR – aided and abetted by the Council of Europe – has abused the European Convention on Human Rights and used its powers to circumvent Parliamentary democracy in an unaccountable way. On countless occasions, these institutions have alarmed the public with their support for criminals, illegal immigrants and wrongdoers over the victims of crime and the wider interests of society.

This attack on our democracy and criminal justice system follows on from Europe’s demand that we give prisoners the right to vote, their support for Abu Qatada’s efforts to remain in Britain and numerous decisions to allow dangerous foreign national criminals to remain in the UK. People like Mohammed Ibrahim, who killed a defenceless 12 year old girl, and Somali criminals Adow Sufi and Ibrahim Elmi should not be able to rely on human rights as an excuse to avoid punishment for their crimes and deportation from our shores.

These outrageous situations have arisen because of the unaccountable decision-making process within the Council of Europe which has rendered it incapable of serious reform and unable to respect the rights of sovereign nation states.  This is ironic for a set of institutions established in the aftermath of the Second World War to promote democracy. However, despite their rhetoric, the Council of Europe, the ECHR and their related Strasbourg-based institutions are undermining democracy and the European Convention on Human Rights, which they purport to uphold.

Outside of any democratic process involving national parliaments, these institutions are seeking to systematically rewrite our criminal justice system and immigration rules through issuing diktats and setting policies which the ECHR enforces. In the judgement on life sentences, the ECHR quoted extracts from the Council of Europe’s European Prisoner Rules as a reason for giving cold-blooded killers the prospect of release. These rules provide that “all detention shall be managed so as to facilitate the reintegration into free society of persons who have been deprived of their liberty” and that “the prison regime for sentenced prisoners shall be designed to enable them to lead a responsible and crime-free life.” 
In justifying their decision to demands that prisoners get the right to vote, the ECHR quoted the European Prisoner Rules stipulation that prisoners deprived of their liberty should not have “the suffering inherent in this” aggravated. The judges also referred to the demand in the Committee of Ministers’ recommendation on the management by prison administrations of life sentence and other longer prisoners that “Prison life should be arranged so as to approximate as closely as possible to the realities of life in the community.” Neither of these policies received Parliamentary approval in Britain.

Likewise, on immigration, our domestic laws are at risk from policies which are highly critical of countries pursuing robust immigration controls to keep illegal immigrants out. The Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights has gone as far as proclaiming that ‘illegal immigrants’ should instead be referred to as ‘irregular migrants’ and given rights to access healthcare, housing and employment. It is only a matter of time before another judgement from the ECHR provokes anger, frustration and concern in Britain as our national interests are cast aside in favour of the dogmatic pursuit of a liberal elite’s agenda.

So what can be done to address this situation and protect Britain from further ridiculous judgements? Firstly, Ministers must put a stop to these European institutions’ constant desire to take powers away from the British people and into the hands of unaccountable bureaucrats in Strasbourg. This can be done by refusing to recognise the policies the Council of Europe adopts which contravene our interests, and rejecting ECHR judgements that undermine the sovereignty of our Parliament and integrity of our justice system. Secondly, we should put an end to the ECHR being used as a final court of appeal by criminals, terrorists and illegal immigrants. This should also include preventing prisoners from using legal aid to fund their cases. And thirdly, we should protect human rights in this country through a British Bill of Rights. Britain has a proud tradition safeguarding fundamental rights, such as the right to a fair trial. Our Parliament and our courts are far more qualified to balance these rights and the national interest in an effective and democratic way than the tyrannical bureaucrats and judges in Strasbourg.

Conservatives must now stand up for Britain because real reforms need to be underpinned by democracy and not diktat. If we go into the next General Election as a Party committed to repatriating human rights laws back to Britain and ending Europe’s perverted obsession with helping criminals and wrongdoers, then we will be on the side the majority of hard-working law-abiding people in Britain.


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