Sarah's speech to Parliament on EU accession to the European Convention on Human Rights
Sarah Ludford (ALDE), blue-card question. – Madam President, painful as it is to have family disagreements in public, will Mr Fox recognise that in the briefing distributed yesterday to UK MEPs it was said that the UK Government – and of course that is led by your prime minister Mr Cameron – is fully committed to EU accession to the European Convention on Human Rights? The benefits of such accession are that it will close the gap in human rights protection in the EU, as applicants will for the first time be able to bring a complaint before the Strasbourg court directly against the EU for alleged violation of Convention rights (which you should applaud), enable the EU to defend itself directly before the Strasbourg court, create legal certainty, and so on.
So are you telling us that you refute the view of a Conservative-led government?
Sarah Ludford (ALDE ). - Madam President, I have already affirmed the full commitment of the UK Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government to EU accession to the Convention. I certainly speak for all Liberal Democrat ministers, parliamentarians and members. I think I have sufficiently refuted the suggestion by British Labour MEP Richard Howitt, whom I see in his place, in a debate two days ago that LibDems were somehow apologists for Tory hostility to the Strasbourg Convention and Court. But before I leave the intra-British debate, for which I apologise to other colleagues, I must remind Labour MEPs that their former Justice Secretary Jack Straw utterly failed to stand up for human rights, and once called the Human Rights Act a ‘villain’s charter’ in remarkably similar terms to Ms Sinclaire, whom Mr Cashman rightly criticised.
I also want to express complete British LibDem support for strengthening the European Court of Human Rights. The Brighton Conference currently taking place – and I share Renate Weber’s dismay at the lack of transparency – must enhance the ability of the Court to issue robust and authoritative judgments. But the Court does need streamlining and relieving of its huge backlog. National courts must do the heavy lifting of implementation of the Convention, and that is why the Convention needs to be incorporated and remain incorporated in domestic law, as in the UK Human Rights Act.
The Strasbourg Court must not be a routine court of appeal, but an effective and respected watchdog for 47 states and the EU. I hope and trust that will be the result of the Brighton Conference tomorrow.
Sarah Ludford (ALDE ), blue-card answer . – Madam President, the Human Rights Convention does apply to the European Arrest Warrant and it is implicit in it, but it is explicit in the UK implementation of the European Arrest Warrant.
Wearing my other hat, which I used to be able to do in the British Parliament, helped secure an amendment to the 2003 Extradition Act, which requires the judge, before agreeing to extradition under the European Arrest Warrant, to decide whether someone’s Convention rights would be breached. I do not know why that has never succeeded in a UK court but I was there to make sure that this law applies and I will go on insisting that human rights apply to internal EU extradition.
By the way, the Strasbourg court did not prevent the extradition of Abu Hamza to the United States. We can disagree on whether that was the right decision but in fact they did say he would get a fair trial, even if he would be subject to harsh conditions after conviction. The difference there would be after conviction, not pre-trial.