Is the government really “on the brink” of success in Strasbourg?

by Carl Gardner on November 29, 2011

So the Telegraph reported the week before last, based on an interview with Ken Clarke:

the Justice Secretary reveals that Britain is poised strike a deal to overhaul the controversial human rights court to stop it being used by “every individual who has lost his own particular case”.

Cabinet ministers were ordered earlier this week to lobby their European counterparts to support the historic change in the court’s remit and a deal is now expected to be agreed at a conference in London next April …

he and William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, now believe that reform is imminent and the Cabinet were briefed on the breakthrough last Tuesday.

But I doubt we really are “on the brink” of an immediate breakthrough.

I’ve no doubt at all that ministers are aiming to secure agreement in April: that will mark the end of the UK’s six-monthly chairmanship of the Council of Europe, and the UK’s published priorities show it’s working to that timetable. If the Telegraph piece implies (as I think it can be read as doing so) that the deal’s already more or less sealed, I think this must be based on an overinterpretation of what Clarke said – which was only, in truth, to reveal that a paper had gone to Cabinet on the UK’s proposals and that

Mr Clarke insists a deal is possible.

The FCO is skilled in diplomacy and the UK may well be pushing at an open door with these reforms – the European Court still has a huge backlog of unresolved cases, and the inflow must somehow be stemmed. So Clarke is surely right that a deal is possible. Still, though, there must remain considerable work to do. The Cabinet must have discussed the detailed proposals the UK hopes will meet with agreement – not yet a deal that others have accepted. Such an instant diplomatic triumph would be astonishing.

I’ll come back in a future post to the shape reforms could take.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 ObiterJ November 29, 2011 at 19:17

Any report(s) on the outcome of the recent conference held under the aegis of the Foreign Office at Wilton Park? “2020 Vision for the European Court of Human Rights.” It was “by invitation only.”

2 Carl Gardner November 29, 2011 at 19:24

I’m afraid not! They didn’t invite me.

3 ObiterJ November 30, 2011 at 19:02

Nor me – but no surprises there !! The interesting thing is that the conference was attended by the Attorney-General. No doubt the outcomes of the various sessions will inform the UK’s approach at the Council of Europe over the next 6 months. Far too “hush hush” in my view for the little that it is worth !

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