Friday, 18 March 2011

Fewer judges at European Court, says Clarke

The Government has already indicated it will use its presidency of the Council of Europe later this year to try and bring about changes to the European Court.

While chatting with Lobbydog recently, Justice Secretary Ken Clarke hinted at the kind of reform they’ll pursue.

He said: “We could probably do with fewer judges and we need to have a look at the quality of the judges and how they are appointed.

“They are reasonable, but there are some that have not sat as judges before going to the European Court, they are academic lawyers.

“They sit on panels and it might make things better if we reduce the size of those panels.”

This comes on the back of recent problems over the European Court’s ruling that gives British prisoners voting rights.

By law the Government must comply, even though Parliament rejected the ruling in a non-binding vote last month.

Ministers have instead said they want to go back to the European Court and work with it to see how the issue can be resolved.

Perhaps a threat to reform the court will prove a handy stick in any talks.

Clarke also said the court needed new powers to deal with trivial matters quickly to cut back on a backlog of cases.

He was reluctant to make any big promises on when changes would be delivered, pointing out that any reform would have to be agreed by 47 countries.

Clarke did say that the UK had some good allies in their desire for reform though – the UK’s goal will be “to move the issue along significantly” rather than achieve solid reform within its presidency period.

Bill of Rights Commission out...

The Government has managed to talk Sir Leigh Lewis KCB into chairing their commission into the British Bill of Rights.

He steps in after the previous candidate for chair pulled out at the last minute.

Lewis, a former Permanent Secretary at the Department for Work and Pensions with a 'long career in public service', is perfectly positioned to see that this issue remains unresolved well in to 2012.

Full membership: Sir Leigh Lewis KCB, Jonathan Fisher QC, Martin Howe QC, Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws QC, Lord Lester of Herne Hill QC, Philippe Sands QC, Anthony Speaight QC, Professor Sir David Edward QC and Dr Michael Pinto-Duschinsky.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Bill of rights woes...

THE Government has had to delay announcing the membership of a commission to explore the case for a British Bill of Rights after the person selected to chair it backed out at the last minute.

Those on the Tory right had hoped that a Conservative pledge to bring in a British Bill of Rights would allow the UK to legally trump decisions made by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) – unlikely.

But because of Lib Dem support for the ECHR, the Coalition agreed only to set up a commission to look at the case for introducing the Bill.

So the commission’s very existence is already irksome to Tory righties, and now further delay.

Membership of the body was all but set and could have been announced this week, but the person originally tasked to lead it pulled out saying she would be “too busy” to take up the role.

The Government is now trying to get another member locked into the job, but I’ve a feeing the commission is going to be more trouble than the PM ever knew.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Balls capitalises on fuel duty...

So far Labour has managed to use its Opposition Day debates to pretty good effect.

The tuition fees debate capitalised on protests outside Parliament, while debates on cuts to school sports funding and the now-abolished plans to sell-off woodland preceded full on u-turns.

So it's no surprise that the week before Budget day, March 23, the Opposition is targeting fuel duty.

Ed Balls will use his party’s debate this Wednesday to call for fuel to be exempt from the most recent rise in VAT.

The Government has already been hinting that some sort of action on the price of fuel would be taken in the Budget.

But none the less if George Osborne does make any concessions now then Balls will say it's another sign of Government back peddling in the face of Labour pressure.