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Top European judge criticises British PM

24 January 2012, 10:12 CET
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(LONDON) - The head of the European Court of Human Rights on Tuesday criticised British Prime Minister David Cameron's plans to reform the court, accusing the British government of pandering to the tabloid press.

Cameron is on Wednesday set to use a speech in Strasbourg -- where the court is based -- to call for sweeping changes following a string of cases where judgments made in Britain have been overhauled in Europe.

But the British president of the court, Nicolas Bratza, wrote in The Independent newspaper that there had been a "sustained attack" from Britain, despite the fact that the court had been "respectful" to British law.

"Against this background, it is disappointing to hear senior British politicians lending their voices to criticisms more frequently heard in the popular press, often based on a misunderstanding of the court's role and history, and of the legal issues at stake," Bratza wrote.

He said a 2005 judgment on prisoners' voting rights "has been used as the springboard for a sustained attack on the court and has led to repeated calls for the granting of powers of parliament to override judgments of the court against the UK, and even for the withdrawal of the UK from the Convention."

Britain holds the presidency of the Council of Europe until May and wants to use it to push through reforms to the European Court of Human Rights.

The issue flared up earlier this month when the court blocked Britain from extraditing radical Muslim cleric Abu Qatada to Jordan on the grounds that he would be tried using evidence obtained by torture.

Cameron last week said that the decision was "immensely frustrating" and that Britain should be able to deport people it viewed as a threat to its security.

"I'm going to Strasbourg next week to make the argument that, as we are chairing the Council of Europe, this is a good time to actually make reforms to the European Court of Human Rights and make sure it acts in a more proportionate way," Cameron said at the time.

The issue comes against a broader backdrop of troubled ties between Britain and Europe, after Cameron in December kept London out of a fiscal discipline pact involving all the other EU nations.


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