UK
04/12/2013 20:14 GMT | Updated 04/12/2013 20:15 GMT

Lord Judge 'Astounded' By Theresa May's Comments On Human Rights

Oli Scarff/PA Wire
Theresa May's comments have been been rejected by Lord Judge

A former lord chief justice 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 Court of Human Rights.

Addressing the University College London's Constitution Unit, Lord Judge said he was "astounded" by home secretary Theresa May's comments at the Tory 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".

Lord Judge, who retired from his position as the most senior judge in England and Wales in September, added that the position of the judiciary was "frequently misunderstood".

He said: "I confidently assert that there is not a single judge in the jurisdiction who would seek to put the interests of a foreign criminal ahead of those of a victim of crime, or the public generally.

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"But, a judge cannot ignore an Act of Parliament, and a resolution of the House of Commons has no sufficient legal force to suspend or dispense with legislation.

"Judges must apply statute, no more, but no less, and if the consequence of legislation properly enacted, as it worked out in practice, is unacceptable to Parliament, the remedy is in Parliament's hands."

Lord Judge said that judges were required to take account of the decision of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg - but that did not mean they were required to "apply or follow them".

He added: "If that was the statutory intention, that would be the language used in the statute."

He said the principle that superior courts bound inferior courts had been wrongly applied to the decisions of the Strasbourg court.

He added: "In my view, the Strasbourg Court is not superior to our Supreme Court."

Justice secretary Chris Grayling said: "I think the majority of the people in this country would agree with Lord Judge that human rights laws cannot simply be left as they are.

"I've long been clear that our Supreme Court should be in Britain not Strasbourg.

"I also firmly believe that Labour's Human Rights Act should be replaced, and that we need to curtail the role of the European Court of Human Rights in the UK.

"The fact is we are the only major party committed to radical changes to human rights laws - and our commitment is that as Conservatives we will go into the next election with a clear plan for reform."