By Ray Fleming

BRITAIN is currently in the chair of the Council of Europe which is the parent body of the European Court of Human Rights so David Cameron's visit to Strasbourg yesterday to speak about Britain's relationship with the Court was predictably previewed by the UK right-wing press as an occasion when he would take the opportunity to make clear his dissatisfaction with some of the Court's recent judgements that have seemed to cut across Britain's own legal competence.

The prime minister's audience in Strasbourg yesterday will doubtless also have recalled his admission last year that the Court's support for the right of prisoners to vote had “made my stomach churn”, but in the event Mr Cameron took a reasonable line on the reforms he thinks necessary. He emphasized Britain's commitment to human rights going back to Magna Carta but questioned Strasbourg's tendency to become a “court of fourth instance” following three levels of national hearings; he suggested that a way should be found of restricting the Court to “the most flagrant human rights violations” rather than the thousands of “relatively trivial” cases it currently deals with and which clog its administrative processes.

Nonetheless, in principle and although it is true that the Court is overloaded, the right of an individual to pursue justice to the very highest level, especially in Human Rights matters, cannot easily be withheld.

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