Cameron’s stance on ECHR damned
Labour MP says countries such as Ukraine justifying breaches of human rights by citing British government’s view.
Ministers’ plans to withdraw the UK from the European court of human rights (ECHR) are encouraging the government of Ukraine to trample on the liberties of its people, the shadow justice minister has claimed.
Labour MP Sadiq Khan claims, in an interview with the Observer, that Ukraine has been justifying its human rights breaches by citing the British government’s negative attitude to the court.
Khan, who described the UK as a world leader on human rights to which other countries looked for guidance, said: “The Ukraine government is saying: ‘You know what? We don’t really care. If someone like the UK, the beacon of human rights, can say two fingers to the European court, why can’t we?’ We now have a real example of one of the emerging democracies saying if the UK can do it, so can we.”
At the Tory party conference this year, David Cameron said he was ready to pull the UK out of the court on the grounds that its rulings were stopping the government from deporting foreign criminals and illegal immigrants. Chris Grayling, the justice secretary, who is also the lord chancellor, has been the most vociferous cabinet minister on the issue, claiming that the Strasbourg court was being allowed to take precedence over homegrown law.
But Khan said that evidence had emerged that ministers’ negative rhetoric towards the court was provoking a breakdown in the checks on human rights abuses internationally, including in Ukraine, where the government has been criticised for its handling of mass demonstrations by anti-government activists.
Khan cited the example of Oleksandr Volkov, a judge in the Ukrainian supreme court, who was found to have been dismissed unlawfully by the Ukrainian government in a judgment by the ECHR this year. It found four separate violations of article six of the convention on human rights, the right to a fair trial, because of the unfairness of Volkov’s dismissal, highlighting the lack of independence and impartiality of the high council of justice, which is the body responsible for the appointment and dismissal of judges in Ukraine. It also found that when the matter was considered by the Ukraine parliament, MPs deliberately and unlawfully cast multiple votes belonging to their absent peers.
The ECHR ordered in May that Volkov should be reinstated at the earliest possible date, but that was dismissed by politicians in the regime, apparently emboldened by the UK’s attitude towards the court.
Aleksandr Lavrinovich, a former minister of justice and the current chair of the high council of justice in Ukraine, reportedly said in justification: “Great Britain would very much like to leave the European convention on human rights.” The ECHR rules on whether the 47 signatory states, which contain 800 million people, are complying with its articles.
Khan claimed that this was the latest blow to Britain’s reputation as a leader on human rights and accused Grayling, a former management consultant before he became an MP, of being “legally illiterate”. He also said that he feared that the British government’s attacks on the court were part of a slide towards a breakdown in the checks and balances on the state’s power.
“If you look at the office of lord chancellor, it is an office that goes back to 1066. It’s a serious office.
“I have nothing against a lord chancellor, a justice secretary, being a non-lawyer. Just as you don’t have to be a teacher to be an education secretary. The last non-lawyer lord chancellor was 340 years ago. My problem is that this man is legally illiterate,” said Khan.