Top British Judge Accuses Human Rights Court of Creating 'Federal Law of Europe'

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Byline: Jonathan Petre, Simon McGee

ONE of Britain's most senior judges has launched a fierce attack on the European Court of Human Rights, accusing it of straying beyond its role and seeking to create a 'federal law of Europe'.

Lord Hoffmann, the second most senior Law Lord, said he supported the adoption of human rights legislation by Britain but stressed that it should be for this country's courts to apply it, not judges in Strasbourg.

The judge, no stranger to controversy, said European rulings that reversed domestic decisions were 'teaching grandmothers to suck eggs'.

He stressed that detailed rulings concerning the British legal system should be made in London. In comments praised by critics of the Human Rights Court, Lord Hoffmann said it had 'been unable to resist the temptation to aggrandise its jurisdiction and impose uniform rules on member states'.

He told the Judicial Studies Board: 'It considers itself the equivalent of the Supreme Court of the United States, laying down a federal law of Europe.' The judge added that the court, set up in 1959 to consider cases brought against countries bound by the European Convention of Human Rights, risked being 'overwhelmed' by a backlog of 100,000 cases.

Individuals can appeal to the court if they feel they have been denied justice in their own countries after they have exhausted their own judicial processes. But Lord Hoffmann said the court had intervened on issues such as the right to silence, the use of hearsay evidence and even night flights at Heathrow Airport, which he said sounded 'about as far from human rights as you can get'.

He referred to one case in which a doctor was charged with indecent assault on two patients, one of them committing suicide after making a statement to the police.

The doctor was convicted after the judge had admitted the dead woman's statement and the conviction was upheld by the Court of Appeal, but overturned by the Strasbourg court, a decision Lord Hoffmann described as 'quite extraordinary'.

He also questioned the court's 'constitutional legitimacy', saying its judges were elected by a committee chaired by a Latvian politician (Boriss Cilevics) and whose British representatives were 'a Labour politician with a trade union background and no legal qualifications' (Lord Tomlinson) and 'a Conservative politician who was called to the Bar in 1972 but, so far as I know, never practised' (Christopher Chope MP). …