Charles Dickens expressed his low esteem for the legal system in Oliver Twist, by penning the immortal line, ‘The law is an ass.’
If the European Court of Human Rights had existed in Victorian England, the great novelist and social commentator might have reached a far more withering verdict…that it is a bullying buffoon, for too long arrogantly riding roughshod over the laws and parliamentary voices of its 47 member states with thuggish zeal from its ivory tower in Strasbourg.
And last week it proved beyond a scintilla of doubt it’s no longer fit for purpose by upholding appeals against ‘life-means-life’ sentences by three of the most callous, brutal murderers ever brought to justice.
One was Jeremy Bamber, who, in 1986, murdered five members of his family – including his parents and two young nephews – in a bid to snatch a large inheritance. He even tried to pin the crimes on his mentally ill sister, whom he also shot.
Another, Douglas Vinter, stabbed his wife to death in 2008, less than three years after being released from jail for a previous murder.
The third, Peter Moore, killed four gay men in 1995 for perverted sexual gratification.
Yet, in their blustering inanity, the Euro judges decided that whole-life tariffs, which force murderers to die in jail, are ‘inhuman and degrading’.
Naturally, they ignored the ‘inhuman and degrading’ treatment meted out to the victims or the sentiments of the British people and lawmakers, who believe certain heinous criminals are beyond redemption.
The ECHR also failed to take into account that, after abolishing capital punishment in 1965, life sentences sometimes meant lifers would go the distance and currently 49 are subject to that fate.
Inevitably, the ruling will bring succour to Moors murder, Ian Brady, and Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper. And no doubt their legal teams are beavering away now on appeals to the robed primates of Strasbourg – especially after Brady failed to convince a court he was bad, not mad, and should be transferred from a mental facility to a prison, so he can legally starve himself to death.
If this latest ECHR judgement was a one-off aberration it could almost be excused. But it wasn’t, because it followed a litany of crackpot rulings that make a mockery of UK justice.
The Abu Qatada farce was indisputably the most contentious, since it hamstrung a national government’s will to rid itself of an evil fanatic – described by a High Court judge as ‘Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man in Europe’ – who entered Britain illegally and urged his followers to kill British troops.
Yet it took eight years of toil by five Home Secretaries (Interior Ministers) to get rid of the monster and shrug off the ignominy piled on a nation that evolved one of the first, fair, moral codes of justice – reaching back to the 13th Century Magna Carta – by a bunch of foreign appointees, many from lands where freedom is still as shiny as a new euro.
Rightly, countless precedents in English criminal law were enshrined in the European Charter for Human Rights, codified in 1953 by the Council of Europe after the horrors of World War Two, especially the Holocaust.
These formed the basis for the ECHR when it was established in 1959 as a court of last resort.
The problem is, during the ensuing 54 years, it has extended its remit well beyond the intentions of the founding fathers and its power grab now vetoes the democratic will of its constituent parts.
The result is practically any ne’er-do-well who can’t convince anyone from a magistrate to a Supreme Court judge of his innocence can take the gripe to Strasbourg and bog the legal system down for years, not to say rack up vast legal aid costs (£1.7M in Qatada’s case).
Unsurprisingly, ‘human rights’ has become one of my learned friends’ financial honey pots, as the number of appeals to the ECHR exploded from 8,400 in 1999 to 57,000 a decade later, with 119,300 pending.
Meanwhile, Strasbourg’s meddling goes far beyond individuals and into national affairs of state, as demonstrated by its demand for the UK to give convicts the right to vote, despite prevailing public opinion insisting felons forfeit that privilege during their time behind bars.
Now, finally, after years of scorn from Strasbourg, a British Home Secretary – namely Theresa May – is making more than noises about quitting the jurisdiction of the ECHR.
Obviously, this doesn’t please Dean Spielmann, the Luxembourg judge and president of the court, who warns, ‘Any member state who would leave the Council of Europe, who would denounce the convention, would lose its credibility when it comes to promoting human rights also in different parts of the world. It would be political disaster.’
Spielmann isn’t the first judge to talk codswallop through his wig (not that they wear them in Strasbourg). But he’s entirely mistaken to criticise a nation, whose legal system is still one of the envies of the world and has sufficient in-built safeguards to ensure justice is done and seen to be.
Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights generally have no issues with how the UK dispenses law.
Meanwhile, there are plenty of countries who have signed up to the UN Convention on Human Rights who barely pay lip service to the concept.
So Spielmann and his ECHR cronies might like to heed the wisdom of David Blunkett, who oversaw the ‘whole life’ sentencing legislation as Home Secretary in 2003.
‘Whatever the technical justification the Strasbourg court may have, it is the right of the British Parliament to determine the sentence of those who have committed crimes and for democracy to have the will of the people implemented. To do otherwise can only lead to disillusionment, mistrust of, and a dangerous alienation from, our democracy itself,’ he noted sagely.
I rest my case.