ECHR dictates law just like East Germany, says judge


Sweeping attack: Lord Sumption, pictured, made his case against the European Court of Human Rights in a speech in Malaysia


One of the country’s leading judges yesterday compared the behaviour of the European Court of Human Rights to the methods of Communist East Germany.



The human rights judges in Strasbourg say they are democratic but in reality they dictate the law, just like the communist bosses did, said Supreme Court Judge Lord Sumption.

In a sweeping attack on the way the court has been run, he said it was contributing to a ‘mundane and insidious’ decline of parliamentary powers and accused it of an Orwellian attempt to corrupt democracy.

Lord Sumption said the Strasbourg court had gone far beyond the rules written for it in the European Convention on Human Rights and had instead become ‘the international flag-bearer for judge-made fundamental law’.

In a speech delivered in Malaysia and published in London yesterday he said the court had ‘a significant democratic deficit’.

He condemned the Strasbourg judges for demanding that Britain must give the vote to convicted prisoners, saying they had ‘disregarded’ Parliament and instead ruled that prisoner voting ‘was not a matter for democratic determination at all’.

‘To give the force of law to values for which there is no popular mandate is democratic only in the sense that the old German Democratic Republic was democratic,’ said Lord Sumption.


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Strasbourg uses the word democracy merely as a term of approval for its decisions, he said, and quoted George Orwell, who wrote that ‘if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought’.

His attack on Strasbourg was the second in two days by a senior judge. On Wednesday Appeal judge Lord Justice Laws called on British courts to ignore instructions from the European court, saying that obeying Strasbourg had been ‘an important wrong turning in our law’.

Lord Sumption’s speech was the first by a senior British legal figure to accuse the European court outright of undermining parliamentary democracy.

He said it had transformed the convention on human rights from the ‘safeguard against despotism’ that was intended into a ‘template for many aspects of domestic legal order’.
Condemned: Lord Sumption’s speech was an unprecedented attack by a senior UK legal figure

Condemned: Lord Sumption’s speech was an unprecedented attack by a senior UK legal figure

He said Article Eight of the Convention, which guarantees the right to private and family life, was devised as a protection against the surveillance state of totalitarian governments.

‘In the hands of the Strasbourg court it has been extended to cover the legal status of illegitimate children, immigration and deportation, extradition, aspects of criminal sentencing, abortion, homosexuality, assisted suicide, child abduction, the law of landlord and tenant, and a great deal else besides,’ said Lord Sumption.

‘None of these extensions are warranted by the express language of the convention.’

Lord Sumption dismissed the idea that because Parliament passed the Human Rights Act in 1998, this means it approves of Strasbourg decisions.

New laws made in Strasbourg were ‘in practice incapable of being reversed by legislation, short of withdrawing from the convention altogether’, he said.

He said democracies ‘are rarely destroyed by a sudden external shock or unpopular decisions’.

The process was usually more ‘mundane and insidious’ as they were ‘slowly drained of what makes them democratic by a gradual process of internal decay and mounting indifference’.

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