The Constitution Unit


UK Supreme Court is Not Obliged to Follow the Rulings of the European Court of Human Rights

4 December 2013

The former Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge has called for a change in the Human Rights Act to make it clear that British courts are not obliged to follow the rulings of the European Human Rights Court in Strasbourg.  

"In my view, he said  "the Strasbourg Court is not superior to our Supreme Court"

Controversial matters such as prisoners' voting rights were a matter for Parliament, he added.

Europe did not consist of a federation of states like the United States of America  and, by using the concept of a "living instrument", the Strasbourg Court appeared to be assuming the same mantle as the US Supreme Court. 

In this he was following a major speech earlier this week by Lord Justice Laws.

Lord Judge who retired from office in September, had been "astounded" to read the observation of the Home Secretary at the recent Conservative Party Conference that "some judges chose to ignore Parliament and go on putting the law on the side of foreign criminals instead of the public".

"The position of the judiciary is frequently misunderstood, " he went on . " Judges have no choice.  They are bound by British law to follow the rulings of the Court of Justice of the European Union in Luxembourg.  Our judiciary cannot set aside the law enacted by Parliament."

Lord Judge was speaking at the concluding event in the UCL Constitution Unit's major research   project " The Politics of Judicial Independence," which will result  in a book next year

Lord Judge also complained that the judges had not been consulted in advance about major reforms which affected them such as the "diminished" role of the office of Lord Chancellor and its later incorporation with the new post of  Justice Secretary in charge of prisons.

He had become " increasingly dissatisfied " over new funding arrangements for the courts which could be overshadowed by the funding needs for prisons.

Earlier failures to consult should never happen again but if the chief justice disagreed with  future decisions the  he should be able to speak out in the House of Lords rather than hold a news conference.  Twice yearly meetings with the Prime Minister were not a substitute for  the chief justice's full  involvement in major funding decisions.

Notes for Editors