Why no public appointment hearings for UK’s new European Court of Human Rights judge?
23 May 2012
The Guardian reported yesterday that “MPs aiming to claw back powers from Europe have secretly interviewed candidates to become Britain’s next judge at the European court of human rights”. Oliver Heald MP said that a group of MPs from the three main political parties met the 3 candidates, Raquel Agnello QC, Paul Mahoney and Ben Emmerson QC. The aim is “to improve democratic accountability”.
What would really improve democratic accountability is to hold such meetings in public, and broadcast them online. Currently, the UK public knows frighteningly little about how the Strasbourg Court works in practice. This is hardly surprising given that it is regularly misrepresented in the popular press, for example the Daily Mail and Telegraph’s recent uncritical coverage of a report which wrongly stated the UK loses 3 out of 4 cases there (the real figure is about 1 in 50).
Contrary The Sun’s claim that they are “unelected dictators”, European Court of Human Rights judges are elected – see my previous post for the details. This is also in stark contrast to our domestic judges, which are usually appointed by committee and are almost impossible to sack.
The current recruitment round is to replace Sir Nicolas Bratza as the UK’s judge at the court. As Joshua Rozenberg has reported, Emmerson is the clear frontrunner, given his stellar reputation as a barrister and judicial experience in the High Court. This seems to be accepted by all commentators. Why not give the public an insight into why?
In the United States, Supreme Court Justices go through a rigorous public confirmation process after they have been nominated by the President. Some, such as one of George W. Bush’s nominations Harriet Miers, don’t survive under the pressure.
It is quite wrong for MPs to complain that the European Court of Human Rights is opaque and distant, whilst at the same time failing to allow the public to scrutinise every stage of the UK’s judicial appointment process. It doesn’t happen very often, and it is not too late to open up the process to the public who are, as we are constantly reminded, the ones who have to live with rulings from Strasbourg.
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