Coffee House

Eric Pickles and the looming Tory split over the ECHR

6 December 2012

6:03 PM

6 December 2012

6:03 PM

Eric Pickles is one of the few characters in contemporary British politics. In an interview with The Spectator this week, he chides Vince Cable for not deregulating enough, admits that he gets ‘occasionally irked’ by George Osborne’s impatience on policy, and reveals that ‘‘I was asked by a senior member of the government, two weeks after the National Planning Framework had come into being, why it hadn’t worked.’

But Pickles also gives us a glimpse of a coming Tory split. He says that it is ‘ridiculous’ that individuals can appeal their cases all the way to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. He wants to stop this, which would require Britain leaving the jurisdiction of the court. This is a position shared by a growing number of Conservative Cabinet Ministers.

The bar to this shift though is Dominic Grieve, the Attorney General. He is adamantly opposed to Britain leaving the jurisdiction of the court. Unless he is moved, Conservative policy on the European Council on Human Rights will end up being pretty much the same as the coalition’s policy on it.

Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.

Show comments
  • viewcode

    “…I feel fully protected by the Bill of Rights and subsequent acts passed by Parliament…”

    You do realise that that’s the equivalent of standing in a tin bath at the top of a mountain in the middle of a thunderstorm with a tinfoil hat and chain mail waving a long steel sword whilst shouting “ALL LIGHTNING GODS ARE B******S”?

    A supreme state (such as the one you’re advocating) can remove the Bill of Rights whenever it pleases and do what it likes to you. And given that absolute power corrupts absolutely, that’ll be one of the first things it’ll do.

  • viewcode

    “…Why do we need a foreign court?…”

    Because a foreign court is the ultimate safeguard against the government going insane. If you make the UK Government (via the Crown) the sole executive, the UK Parliament the sole legislature, and the UK Supreme Court the sole arbiter, it’s an accident waiting to happen.

    The Euro has been rightly criticised for being a burning building with no exits. Given that, why would one be so eager to build the legal equivalent? I am always amazed by the eagerness of right-wing and/or small-state people to advocate the ultimate left-wing big-state situation: the supreme, untrammelled state

    If your underlying unease is simply about the word “European”, you may want to consider transferring final arbitration to the United Nations Security Council (that’s the way the Geneva Conventions are handled, incidentally)

  • global city

    Of course, those involved in the organisations that put international law above all else are usually anti democratic, believing that just such wise men SHOULD rule, unfetted by ‘populism’. This is the same core curse that afflicts those who run, as well as those who support ‘ever closer union’ of the EU as only a good thing.
    What i don’t understand though is their plea that governments must adhere to everything that the judges state, and aquiesce to any pushing the boundaries of law into new areas by those same judges, making them law makers as well as interpraters of law.
    Surely the FINAL say must lie with those who are democratically elected? To insist that we must blindly obey all pronouncements by the European courts, or more latterly, international ones, is to be happy with some notion of judicial infalability.. something not even the pope claims any more!

  • barbie

    We don’t need any departments from over the Channel at all, in fact why we continue to pay them 55 million per day I’ll never know. We should just rip up all agreements and start again. We can if we had the will, or MPs with enough guts. Of course with Cameron in place we’ve no chance he’s a Europeaon lover.
    I don’t accept the Europeaon union at all, their flag or their lecturing. For me the flag is meaningless, and I’d use it to clean my shoes if I was forced to or it was suggested we adopt it.
    No, its time we had a good fighter on our side and Pickles seems to be the right candidate, or wil he be all bluster and no guts? Has for the Human Rights Act, we should have our own act and charter, then we could reside all this rubbish they peddle from the across the channel into the dustbin. Why haven’t we got our own constitutional bill? Why does it take so long for MPs to make a stand for whom they were elected to represent? Its obvious we lack political skills amongst those we’ve got, time to elect a new party, UKIP.

  • WIlliam Blakes Ghost

    Why do we need a foreign court? Would our Appeals system be so undermined without the ECHR? Is Grieve saying that the UK Supreme Court is incapable of making just decisions in tune with the culture and aspirations of this country? Is he saying that our legal profession (from which he came) is so substandard that we cannot find within their ranks sufficient wisdom to successfully sustain an independent legal system? Exactly what is it that the ECHR provides that is so vital to this nations judicial system?

    Its all very well for Grieve and his legal pals to line their pockets via this additional layer of legal bureaucracy but is clearly its surplus to requirements when this country is so horrendously in debt and our economy is faltering and when its decision increasingly are so out of step with the diesires of the British people.

    Not only that but the ECHR is out of our democratic control. It can act with the utmost irresponsibility (as it has over Prisoner voting) and do so with impunity. We have no control of it. Much better we return the legal system to national accountability.

    The ‘Fool Britannia’ Years of the 2nd half of the 20th Century are over. We can no longer afford to pander to the idle whims and fantasies of an urban elite continually stroke their tender liberal consciences at the cost of British taxpayers who are totally out of touch with reality The Government is over £1 trillion in debt. The Chancellor and the Bank Of England are increasingly gloomy about our economic outlook. We can longer tolerate the frippery and profligacy of the urban elite!

    This is why the Government is so increasingly unpopular because they would rather punish the British Electorate (carbon targets, minimum alcohol pricing, snoopers charter, withdrawal of public services) than give up their vanity projects (EU, HRA, ECHR, ECJ, International AId, HS2) etc.


    Mr Grieve is unusual – most Tory Europhiles are a GENERATION older than him and clearly no one is indispensable – Grayling now at Justice.

  • In2minds

    “Dominic Grieve………..Unless he is moved…”

    Well it happened to Justine Greening, although I’d rather move Pickles.
    Where? Anywhere so long as it was a long was off.

    • Stuart Eels

      You are so right, this “bloke” breaks every promise that he makes, he really should defect to the Lib/dems!

  • Rupert Baines

    Anyone commenting on this issue really ought to read this article by Lord Chief Justice Bingham.

    Passionately arguing in favour of both ECHR and Human Rights Act; eloquently explaining how the eloquently capture all that is best about British justice.

    Oh, and not to mention being a British creation, following rules written by British justices.

    If you read nothing else abt ECHR / Human Rights Act read that and the paragraph for “Which of these rights…” All you need to know.

    I know I prefer the opinions of Lord Chief Justice Bingham to those of Eric Pickles.

    I don’t know whether people opposing ECHR are ill-informed (they need to read that link) or understand exactly what they are doing, and quite deliberately, quite maliciosly seek to take rights away from us (rights dating back to Magna Carta).

    Either way they need to be stopped.

    • the viceroy’s gin

      If the ECHR is legislating, as appears to have occurred with prisoner voting, then it’s an illegitimate body. If their functions are elastic and they are stretching their original remit, then it’s simply not operating honestly, in the limited way intended of courts.

    • Fergus Pickering

      I would prefer the opinions of a judge on the law. A judge’s opinion on the definition of human rights is worth no more than that of any other person, a politician or a schoolteacher or a professional fotballer or indeed one of the unemployed. .A given level of education is not a human right, nor is a given level of income. Or that’s what I think. A judge’s opinion on such matters is in no way privileged. Could you, by the way,quote the relevant bit of Magna Carta? Thought not.

    • RonDurham

      When it comes to Lord Bingham’s views, the following quote of his is also relevant to the fact that the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights are supreme and unchallengeable under the European Convention:

      “The British people have not repelled the extraneous power of the papacy in spiritual matters and the pretensions of royal power in temporal in order to subject themselves to the unchallengeable rulings of unelected judges.”

  • BenM_Kent

    Here’s an idea: Tories who want to can opt out of ECHR.

    I want to keep my first set of codified rights, thanks.

    • telemachus

      If more felt like you the UK would be a better place

      Besides Pickles is fat

  • dalai guevara

    Ah yes, the localism agenda is done and dusted then, I take it?

    • the viceroy’s gin

      If we could cut a stone and tie it around your neck and throw it in the river, would the underwater arts environment improve?

      • dalai guevara

        Localist underwater art?

  • Chris

    It’s ‘ridiculous’ that we stand for politicians who sneer at the most basic protection of human rights.

    • Daveyyy12

      Human Rights is anti-democratic.

      No problem, Sack Grieve.

    • Sarah46

      He isn’t sneering at human rights, he is saying that our Supreme Court is infinitely more qualified to judge than the ECHR. Some judges in the ECHR are firstly from countries who can barely just claim to be democratic, and several have the most cursery qualifications in the law and are not fit to Judge. The British
      Supreme Court has no reason to be usurped by this court when our judges are world renowned and infinitely more qualified. That is his point.

      • Rupert Baines

        So you think we kerep Human Rights Act and scrap ECHR?

        If we scrap both then there is no law that allows you to go to Supreme Court to protect your rghts…

        The link I just gave flat out conttadicts your opinions about the judges at ECHR.

        • Border Boy

          The Supreme Courts exists as a final Court of Appeal so that a litigant can enforce rights, protections or privileges given to him/her by laws passed by Parliament. It can also give judgements under the Human Rights Act.

          The ECHR applies the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights, which is a statement of fundamental rights – the right not to be held in slavery, the right not to be tortured etc. These rights are characterised by general statements in the various articles, but the judges of the ECHR have used their authority to hand down highly interpreted judgements of these articles, which are nothing to do with fundamental rights. The problem is that they can over rule Parliament in the course of giving these judgements and that does not feel like democracy to me.

          I feel fully protected by the Bill of Rights and subsequent acts passed by Parliament and I don’t want a lot of foreign judges overturning the will of our democratically elected Parliament. We will all be better off when Parliament asserts its authority once more by removing itself from the authority of the ECHR, a right fought for in our Civil War and which we may well have to fight for again.