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Ex-Supreme Court justice backs a British Bill of Rights to replace the “ideological” European Court of Human Rights

  • Lord Sumption also condemns the former Prime Minister Boris Johnson as a “complete charlatan who had contempt for Parliament”

  • And he says that the Government “grossly mishandled” the successful challenge in the courts to its suspension of Parliament over Brexit.

A former Supreme Court justice backs leaving the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and replacing it with British Bill of Rights. 

Lord Sumption, who sat in the highest court from 2012 to 2018, says “we should come out of it…it’s a view I’ve come to recently and reluctantly.”

He adds that he has given up on the prospect of the European Court of Human Rights reforming itself. 

“I really don't see that the Strasbourg court, which is a very ideological court, is going to reform itself. I once thought that there was some prospect of that, I've given up on them,” Lord Sumption says.

The problem, he says, with the Strasbourg court is “that it has since the 1970s emancipated itself from the text of the European Convention on Human Rights …and given itself a roving brief over large parts of the whole range of social policy in respects which are not covered by the Convention.”

His comments come as the Prime Minister is increasingly under pressure from right-wing MPs to withdraw from the European Court of Human Rights if it blocks plans to send asylum seekers to Rwanda.

“If you have an institution which ignores the limited mandates given to it by the states and cuts across the demarcation lines of responsibility essential to a democracy, I think that you should pause and ask yourself whether this is a sensible way to behave,” says Lord Sumption. 

Lord Sumption makes his comments in an interview with the journalist Frances Gibb in the latest episode of the ground-breaking podcast series, The Judges: Power, Politics and the People, hosted by The University of Law. The episode is launched today (25.01.24).

The former Supreme Court justice goes on strongly to criticise the former Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, for his attitude to Parliament and the Parliamentary process.

“I think that Boris Johnson did have a contempt for Parliament. He did feel that he had a personal mandate, which is not the constitutional doctrine.”

“He started complaining that given his personal mandate, it was completely outrageous for MPs to get rid of him.

“I think that the test of a functional parliamentary democracy is not whether it stops the complete charlatans from getting to the top…it is whether it enables them to get rid of him once the mistakes are discovered.” 

“Q: Are you saying he [Boris Johnson] is a complete charlatan? A: Yes.”

He also attacks the Government’s handling of the proroguing of Parliament in 2019 and its “perfectly absurd” claim that this was done for reasons of “efficient time management” rather than aiding his negotiations with the EU over Brexit. 

Lord Sumption is a former chief justice of the UK Supreme Court. He broke ground when he was appointed to that role in 2012, being the first appointment at the top of the judiciary to be made directly from the ranks of the practising Bar. 

As a barrister he had carved out a highly successful career, with wide-ranging expertise spanning commercial law, constitutional law and human rights - and appearing in many complex and prominent cases. He was famously described as having a brain the size of a planet. 

A historian by background, he has written several books, notably a five-volume account of the 100 years war. 

On retiring from the Supreme Court in 2018, he became a prominent public commentator and writer, expressing often controversial views, such as on the handling of the Covid 19 pandemic.  In 2019 he delivered The Reith lectures for the BBC on the theme of “Law and the Decline of Politics,” on the relationship between law and democracy. 

You can watch the full episode here or you can listen to the podcast on The University of Law channel which is being streamed on all major services including Spotify and Apple.