Europe rights laws must be 'modernized' to protect security: UK Home Secretary

[JURIST] Outgoing UK Home Secretary John Reid [press release] told a meeting of ministers from major EU states Saturday that European human rights laws needed to be "modernized" to provide better protection from new terrorism threats. Addressing a conference of EU home affairs and interior ministers in Venice, Reid said more attention had to be paid to the fundamental right of security on which he said all other rights were based, and that politicians who adhered to existing rights laws "to the letter" were not protecting their citizens:

We need to work to modernise the law - still protecting human rights and still providing equity and justice - but reflecting the reality of the conflicts and struggles we now face. We need leadership to do this. It can't be left solely to the lawyers. Politicians must expose these issues and set a lead, so that we can protect the rights of all our citizens, including all those threatened by terrorism.
In recent months senior members of the British government have repeatedly castigated UK judges and lawyers for strict adherence to rights laws. In January Charles Clarke, Reid's predecessor as Home Secretary, told a parliamentary committee that judges in particular were unable to see the national security implications of their rulings [JURIST report] and had turned UK anti-terrorist laws into a "legal and parliamentary circus." Clarke also criticized the Court of Appeal for a ruling last spring that allowed nine Afghani airplane hijackers to remain in the UK for fear they would be tortured in their home country. That controversy prompted debate about whether Britain's Human Rights Act [text; backgrounder; JURIST news archive] should be revised. In July last year Clarke said that senior British judges had repeatedly refused to meet with him [JURIST report] to discuss the interpretation of human rights law in light of security needs, and that their disengagement had to change as it was fuelling "dangerously confused and ill-informed debate which challenges Britain's adherence to the European convention on human rights." BBC News has more.

 

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