January 25, 2012 / 5:14 AM / 8 years ago

Government calls for reform of European Court

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain says the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) needs a major overhaul because it has become bogged down with trivial cases, repeatedly rules on similar issues and overrules national decisions unnecessarily.

In a speech to the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, Prime Minister David Cameron, whose government has been a vocal critic of some of the court’s recent decisions in British cases, will call Wednesday for a reform of the court.

He wants decisions by the court to become accepted as precedents to prevent repetitive cases being brought; more cases to be dealt with domestically; and for the implementation of systemic changes arising from some rulings to be improved to stop the court dealing with the same type of cases.

“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,” Cameron will say according to extracts released by his office.

“This is the right moment for reform - reforms that are practical, sensible and that enhance the reputation of the court. New rules could enable it to focus more efficiently and transparently on the most important cases.”

Last week, the ECHR angered Britain by ruling it could not deport a Jordanian cleric, once described as Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man in Europe, to Jordan to face terrorism charges.

Even though they accepted Britain and Jordan had agreed on a deal to uphold the cleric Abu Qatada’s human rights, the judges said he would not receive a fair trial because evidence against him might have been obtained under torture.

Previous rulings have also enraged Cameron’s predominantly eurosceptic Conservative Party, such as one in 2005 insisting Britain changes its law to give prisoners the right to vote, a prospect which Cameron said made him “physically ill.”

Britain says the court has a backlog of some 160,000 cases with about a 25-month wait for admissible cases to be heard.

Britain holds the chairmanship of the Council of Europe, an international body dedicated to the protection of human rights across 47 countries.

Any reform of the ECHR, set up in 1959 and serving some 800 million people, would require the unanimous approval of the 47 nations and to be ratified by their domestic parliaments.

In his speech Cameron will affirm Britain’s commitment to human rights but the opposition Labour Party said he was more concerned with appeasing right-wing Conservative lawmakers.

Additional reporting by Mohammed Abbas

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