Courts Facing Euro Chaos Admits Irvine; Flood of Appeals Expected as English Law Adopts Human Rights Convention

Article excerpt

Byline: MICHAEL CLARKE

THE courts face being paralysed by a flood of cases brought under the new Human Rights Act, the Government admitted last night.

The controversial legislation makes the European Convention on Human Rights part of English law for the first time.

Once the Act is in force next October, people who claim their human rights have been breached can bring cases in courts here, instead of having to go to the more expensive and slow-moving Human Rights Court at Strasbourg.

The extra caseload is expected to be the equivalent of 12 to 15 years of court time, according to official predictions by the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine.

Bids for judicial reviews, seeking to overturn decisions made by local councils, schools, hospitals and even businesses and charities, are set to double from 300 to 600 a year.

It will mean a bonanza for lawyers with almost [pounds sterling]40million in extra legal aid being allocated to pay for challenges under the new Act.

Cherie Blair has helped form a new law firm, Matrix, specifically to take on human rights cases.

Lord Irvine revealed yesterday that the extra bill for the courts is expected to total [pounds sterling]60million a year.

Another [pounds sterling]4.5million will be spent on training judges and magistrates on the implications of the legislation.

Critics have warned that the new law, which was passed by Labour in 1998, risks triggering a raft of challenges.

But yesterday's figures, supplied to MPs by Lord Irvine's Parliamentary Secretary in the Commons, Jane Kennedy, are the first official confirmation of the scale of the phenomenon.

They show judges in the High Court and Court of Appeal will need to sit for an extra 2,300 to 2,800 days each year to handle cases brought under the Act.

That is the workload of 12 to 15 new judges sitting for the regulation 187 days a year.

But Lord Irvine is recruiting just eight more judges to cope with the workload.

Shadow Home Secretary Ann Widdecombe, who obtained the information, said: 'This measure will open the floodgates to countless claims. My greatest fear is that our courts will become overrun once lawyers start advising people to make claims which, while technically justifiable, in reality fly in the face of common sense. …