UK & World News
UK Wants Deal To Limit Human Rights Court Powers
Representatives from 47 countries are meeting to decide whether the European Court of Human Rights has too much power.
It comes as the deportation of radical Muslim cleric Abu Qatada is thrown into doubt after his lawyers lodged an appeal with the human rights judges.
Justice Secretary Ken Clarke is hosting a conference of representatives of the member nations of the Council of Europe in Brighton.
The Government hopes to secure a deal on reforms that will see European human rights judges intervene less in British affairs.
The deal, called the Brighton Declaration, is expected to be signed at the two-day conference.
In a speech at the Council of Europe in January, Prime Minister David Cameron claimed that the Strasbourg-based court's work defending human freedom and dignity was being put "under threat" due to public unease over some of its decisions.
He also envisaged reforms to the court - reforms which senior Government officials last night denied had been watered down into the draft Brighton Declaration.
However, a justice minister involved in the reform talks insisted there was no "great constitutional crisis about foreign judges trying to ride roughshod over British law".
Liberal Democrat peer Lord McNally said the court needs to change because there is a danger of it acting as a "convenient safety net" for under-performing states.
He said national responsibility for human rights runs through draft plans for reform "like the letters through a stick of Brighton rock".
He said the Brighton Declaration would ensure there was "an onus at national level" for them to consider all human rights implications, he said.
The ECHR "cannot secure the rights and freedoms of 800 million people and, what is more, we should not even ask them to try", he said.
He denied that foreign judges were simply trying to overrule British courts.
The draft declaration "leaves the important decisions for Strasbourg and gets the balance right", he said.
Lord McNally also said the European court was still receiving more applications than it could handle, with a backlog of more than 150,000 cases.
Just 45,000 cases were presented to the court in its first 40 years, but in 2010 alone it was asked to consider 61,300 applications.
In future it should "focus on cases which particularly require the attention of an international court", he said.
He added that the draft declaration was "pretty much there" and "starts with national implementation" of the European Convention on Human Rights and how it may be implemented more effectively by states.
The deal follows months of negotiations in which there was widespread agreement that the system was not working as well as it could and "general agreement that the court should take fewer cases".
From the UK, there were around 900 applications to the court last year, part of a backlog of some 3,000 UK cases, but only eight findings against the UK.
This compared with some 40,000 pending cases from Russia.