A senior Law Lord has warned of a conflict between the European Convention on Human Rights and Prime Minister David Cameron’s proposed British Bill of Rights.
Former Lord Chief Justice Lord Woolf fears judges will be placed in a difficult position trying to balance opposing rights – and said it may force the UK to leave the ECHR.
His comments follow the public outcry over the European Court of Human Rights’ ruling last year that serving prisoners should be allowed to vote, a decision Parliament voted to ignore earlier this month.
Lord Woolf, who was Lord Chief Justice from 2000 to 2005, said that he was “relieved” at Justice Secretary Ken Clarke’s pledge on Sunday that there was “no chance” of Britain pulling out of the ECHR.
But Mr Clarke said he would seek to kick-start reform of the ECHR to rebalance its relations with national courts when the UK takes over the chairmanship of the Council of Europe in November.
The Government will shortly launch its planned Commission on the creation of a British Bill of Rights, but Mr Clarke said it was not yet clear exactly how such a law would interact with the European Convention.
He added: “The Government’s policy is to continue to be a signatory of the European Convention of Human Rights and the Government’s policy is to have a Commission to investigate the case for a British Bill of Rights and whether that could improve the relationship between Strasbourg and here.”
But Lord Woolf told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “If you have a further convention – a British Convention – there’s going to be a complication in the position, because you’re going to have two conventions to which the courts are going to have a regard.
“We have got a stark option: Either we accept the European Convention, or we don’t accept it and decide to leave the Council of Europe.
He added: “I don’t see any problem about the Commission that is being set up and I was very relieved Mr Clarke indicated there would be no question of us withdrawing form the European Council and the European Convention on Human Rights.”