Similarly, the Daily Mail says “the time has come for Britain to tell unelected Strasbourg judges that they have overstepped their authority“, and the Daily Express poses a dilemma between “democratically elected Commons or an unelected and alien tribunal in Strasbourg“.
Just to set the record straight, unlike our own judges, judges the European Court of Human Rights are elected.
According to Article 22 of the European Convention on Human Rights:
The judges shall be elected by the Parliamentary Assembly with respect to each High Contracting Party by a majority of votes cast from a list of three candidates nominated by the High Contracting
So the United Kingdom nominates its own candidate and has 18 seats on the Parliamentary Assembly which decides who is chosen. All members of the assembly are MPs from domestic parliaments. So our own MPs vote on which judges to appoint. This is more power than they have to elect domestic judges.
And, again in stark contrast to our own jobs-for-life (well, until retirement) judges, after serving for a period of 9 years European judges cannot be reelected. Our own judge, Sir Nicholas Bratza, is due to be replaced in June 2012. The full procedure for electing judges, which is under review at the moment, can be found here.
It is a shame that none of the newspapers mentioned above spotted this inconvenient truth, and that the public have once again been misled about an important legal issue in order to fit with an editorial position.
The irony is that the democratic accountability of our own judges, by way of comparison, is practically nil. This led Michael Howard to complain recently that the democratic deficit means our judges are too powerful. The head of the supreme court, who is recommended by the prime minister and appointed by a committee, responded that that this was unfair. But the fact remains that the public have little say on who hands out our domestic justice.
And, as Joshua Rozenberg has written, it is almost impossible to sack our domestic judges, even when they make gross errors. Perhaps we could take some advice from the European Court of Human Rights on how to make our own justice system more democratically accountable.
If the presentation of law in newspaper articles concerns you, the online Press Complaints Commission form is here.
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