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UK judge warns proposed bill of rights could further conflict between UK, ECHR

Former UK Lord Chief Justice Lord Woolf warned Monday that a British Bill of Rights, as proposed by various members of the British government, would conflict [BBC audio] with the European Convention on Human Rights [text, PDF], which the UK has incorporated into its law. While the government has not stated an intention to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights, Woolf has warned that continued adherence to the convention combined with the creation of a British Bill of Rights will create complications for judges in determining which to follow and further the existing conflict between the UK and the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website]. The proposal for the British convention arose from recent disagreements [BBC report] with both the ECHR and the UK Supreme Court [official website]. The former caused outrage by ruling [JURIST report] that prisoners should have the right to vote and the latter evoked a similar reaction through its April 2010 ruling [JURIST report] that the country's sex offender registry violates individual rights to privacy. In his answers to questions [text] regarding these issues last week, Prime Minister David Cameron characterized the Supreme Court's ruling as flying "in the face of common sense" and assured those listening that "a commission will be established imminently to look at a British Bill of Rights, because it is about time we ensured that decisions are made in this Parliament rather than in the courts." For now, Cameron intends to follow the minimum requirements of each respective ruling.

Earlier this month, UK think tank Policy Exchange [think tank website] called for the UK to withdraw [JURIST report] from the ECHR in favor of a domestic high court. Senior UK judge Lord Leonard Hoffman wrote the foreword, saying the "Strasbourg court has taken upon itself an extraordinary power to micromanage the legal systems of the member states." The report, written by former government adviser Dr. Michael Pinto-Duschinsky, explains that the ECHR has gradually grown in power. It calls for the UK to try to negotiate reforms with the court to limit its jurisdiction, and, if unsuccessful, states "the UK should consider withdrawing from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and establishing the Supreme Court in London as the final appellate court for human rights law." The report suggests that, if the UK pulls out, a domestic court would be final arbiter on human rights issues, and there would be no right to appeal to the ECHR.

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Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

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