Two separate decisions – one made by United Kingdom government ministers on the European Arrest Warrant, and another concerning whole life sentences made by the European Court of Human Rights – have highlighted once again the way in which democratic control over judicial matters has effectively passed from Westminster to the European Parliament and the Strasbourg court.
In the case of the European Arrest Warrant – a tick-box defendant transfer form-filling exercise that neuters the discretion any national judge may have had over extradition to European Union countries, and which permits the almost automatic transfer of anyone in the UK on the signature and precious little else of a foreign judge – Britain has an opportunity to opt out of the scheme in May 2014.
But Home Secretary Theresa May, a Conservative, has today indicated that she is minded to opt back in to the scheme. It will then become a permanent feature of UK law, which the national parliament may not thereafter abrogate because it is part of the acquis communautaire, or primary law, of the EU and has precedence over anything that Westminster might be inclined to do. In short, this is set to become an immutable fixture of UK law that can only be changed if we get the agreement of the EU and the EU parliament.
This decision calls into question the genuineness of Prime Minister David Cameron’s promise to repatriate significant powers from the EU. Here was an opportunity to recover a deeply-controversial and much-criticised area of policy from Brussels, Cameron has simply handed it straight back. Is it any wonder then that British voters do not trust the prime minister on the EU? This is the latest example in a long process of the Tories saying one thing on this issue and then doing another – while hoping no one notices.
Worryingly, we must expect numerous other powers, in respect of which we have an opt-out, similarly to become entrenched. Under pressure from their Europhile coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, Cameron’s Conservatives are also going to knuckle under in respect of a whole series of other powers. At this point, Cameron looks to be utterly weak: hardly a good negotiating position if you wish to tough it out with all 27 other member states over major powers being repatriated.
The second decision is the one in Vinter and others V The United Kingdom in which the ECHR has overridden the UK parliament and ruled that the country cannot have a system whereby whole life sentences are passed without prospect of any form of review. Yet again we see judicial, criminal law and sentencing policy being set by unaccountable foreign judges in Strasbourg who have now effectively usurped parliament in setting such policy.
Cameron’s government – again like a dog being wagged by its Lib Dem tail – refuses to countenance withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights and replacing it with a bespoke British Bill of Rights that has the authority of parliament. In any event, we cannot escape the EU human rights industry. The EU regards the jurisprudence and tests of the European convention as being part of the acquis communautaire. So even if we left the convention, we must expect the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg to fill the gap.
There is only one way out of this mess: leave the EU and repudiate the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and European Court of Human Rights. We must seize back our sovereignty and reassert the primacy of our parliament and our democratically elected and accountable politicians.
Gerard Batten MEP is UKIP’s spokesman on justice and home affairs