In Depth

Lord Neuberger slams 'slanted' portrayal of human rights

Britain's top judge warns UK will have to quit UN if it wants to send terrorism suspects to face torture

lord-neuberger.jpg

IF BRITAIN wants to deport terrorism suspects to countries that carry out torture, it will have to pull out of the United Nations as well as the European Court of Human Rights, the country's top judge has warned.

Lord Neuberger, the president of the supreme court, sounded his warning after Home Secretary Theresa May told the Mail on Sunday she would make the UK's withdrawal from the ECHR part of the Tory manifesto before the general election in 2015. May has been an outspoken critic of the court which has frustrated her efforts to deport the radical Muslim cleric Abu Qatada to Jordan.

The Mail, which says the ECHR has allowed "dangerous criminals and hate preachers" to remain in the UK, applauded May's pledge. If enacted it would "leave British judges free to interpret the law without interference from the Strasbourg-based ECHR", the paper said.

But the proposal got short shrift from Lord Neuberger, who today launched what The Guardian calls a "sustained attack" on "slanted" media coverage and "one-sided portrayals" of the ECHR and the way it operates.

Neuberger, 65, who was sworn in as president of the supreme court on 1 October last year, said the UK's highest court is "not subservient", but works "in a dialogue" with judges in Strasbourg. Pulling out of the ECHR would "certainly send an unfortunate number of messages," he told The Guardian.

Neuberger conceded that "human rights excite great emotion," but said he objected to the misrepresentation of some of the ECHR's decisions. "An obvious example is attacking the [European] human rights convention because we can't send back nasty terrorists because they might be tortured. Well, even if you think we should be able to be send them back … there's a UN convention going back to 1948 which says you can't do that – which stops it on its own, unless we are going to pull out of the UN."

The judge also hit back at criticisms of the judiciary made by the Home Secretary last month when she accused judges of "subverting" British democracy and making the streets of Britain more dangerous by ignoring rules aimed at deporting more foreign criminals.

Neuberger said the minister's comments were "inappropriate, unhelpful and wrong" and told the Daily Telegraph that such public attacks risked "destabilising" the delicate balance between Parliament and the judiciary.

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