IN all probability you’ve never heard of Iulia Motoc, Ganna Yudkivska, Ineta Ziemele or Päivi Hirvelä, though you might guess they’re targets for top soccer clubs during this January’s transfer window – except all are female.
I could add a further 43 names and you’d be none the wiser. Nor would it help if I said Iulia is Rumanian, Ganna hails from Ukraine, Ineta is a Latvian and Päivi’s a Finn.
‘So what’, you might say dismissively. ‘They’re nothing to do with me.’
But how wrong you’d be. Because they have much to do with you – and the 733 million others populating our continent – in everything from how you work, who you rub shoulders with, what you buy, even to what opinions you choose to air in public.
In fact, in some respects, they are higher and mightier than all the prime ministers, presidents and parliaments in Europe put together.
What’s more, they’re answerable to no-one, because they are judges at the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), ostensibly the arbiter of last resort for disgruntled citizens to bring their governments to heel.
However, just as the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, so, is the ECHR. And it threatens to become such a judicial blight on almost every nation falling within it remit – which means most of us – serious concerns are being voiced as to whether it’s become too big for its boots.
Historically, the ECHR was the lovechild of the Council of Europe, formed in 1950 with the laudable intention of never again tolerating a regime as homicidally racist and wantonly thuggish as the Nazis.
Three years later the European Convention of Human Rights was drafted and in 1959 the Court constituted, with signatory states, including Britain, appointing judges, who – way back then – were mainly there for the kudos.
Each member nation still retained its own laws and the ECHR was chiefly hailed as an triumph of emerging, pan-European political goodwill rather than an instrument of judicial meddling.
Until, that is, in their addled wisdom, Brussels Europrats decided that applicants to the EU – which operates the extraneous European Court of Justice – had to join the Council of Europe, thereby kow-towing to the primacy of the ECHR.
In theory the motives to protect and enhance human rights are noble, especially in regard to former Soviet bloc satellites; in practice, however, it has led to some gross violations of individual national rights.
Deep misgivings have also emerged about some appointees to the Strasbourg bench being novices and/or harbouring personal, prejudiced social and political agendas.
As an ECHR official privately admitted, ‘Around half the judges had no judicial experience before going to the Court, which means it’s no surprise they go off on judicial frolics of their own.’
So it matters little that countries – like Britain – with long, democratic histories, have evolved legal systems far superior to the upstart Europeans, whose often quirky rulings can beggar belief.
Probably nothing better illustrated Strasbourg’s ability to make an ass of itself when it rode, roughshod, over UK justice in the cases of hook-handed hate preacher Abu Hamza – who used the ECHR for years to block attempts to deport him to face terrorism charges in the USA – and the equally abhorrent Abu Qatada, wanted in Jordan.
The Euro judges also have other, festering bees in their non-existent wigs, firstly accusing Britain of ‘human rights abuse’ by denying criminals the vote while they’re in jail.
In a sane world it’s not unreasonable that convicts forfeit privileges enjoyed by law-abiders. And their incarceration certainly shouldn’t extend to the liberty of scratching an X on a ballot paper any more than good behaviour should earn them a week’s knees-up in Magaluf.
This time, however, Strasbourg’s arrogant twaddle is meeting with fierce hostility, not just from UK politicians, but the country’s judiciary.
Former Lord Chief Justice Judge recently stated his learned opinion that no judges should have the power of the ECHR and the Court wasn‘t ‘entitled to tell every country in Europe how to organise itself’.
While applauding the Human Rights Convention – largely written, as he pointed out, ‘by British lawyers for a war-torn, concentration-camp filled continent’ – the former law lord seriously questioned how Euro judges interpret it.
‘I think it [the Human Rights Act], means you take account of, have regard to [European rulings], but it does not mean we are bound by the decisions. My very strong belief is that this issue needs to be resolved by Parliament,’ he told Radio 4’s Today programme.
The second collision between Britain and the ECHR regards current English law that allows judges to impose ‘whole life’ tariffs, effectively sentencing a criminal to die in jail.
Strasbourg’s opinion is such sentences are a breach of the Human Rights Convention, because there was no possibility of a ‘right to review’.
That ruling therefore means at least one serial killer has avoided a whole-life sentence and opens the door for others to follow, completely ignoring the human rights of victims and their families.
Meanwhile, 61 years is a long enough stretch for any convention to exist unchanged, especially since it authors couldn’t foresee challenges ahead, like the threat posed by international terrorism.
Left unchecked, then, the Euro judges are free to impose their alien legal system on EU states and humiliate national governments, whose laws may be far more in lockstep with modern-day justice.
But, because the ECHR is the Council of Europe’s legal battering-ram, any member country found in contempt of its ‘judicial frolics’ could find itself an EU outcast.
As ECHR President, Dean Spielmann, warned, ‘I can hardly see how a member of the European Union could possibly withdraw from the Council of Europe. From a political perspective it might be very difficult to stay in the European Union.’
Of course, it would be simpler for the UK government to cave in and give serving cons the vote.
But, somehow, the notion of the likes of Yorkshire Ripper, Peter Sutcliffe, and Gunner Lee Rigby’s killers enjoying the freedom to cast a ballot doesn’t sit easily with most Brits, a view backed by Prime Minister, David Cameron, who said the prospect made him ‘physically sick.’
So, maybe, it’s time to put the ECHR in its own dock – and judge whether its absurdities are bringing the law into disrepute.
Because, on the evidence so far, it is certainly guilty of putting the civil liberties of a few ahead of the human rights of the many.