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Cameron Proposes New Rules for European Human-Rights Court

U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron proposed changes to the European Court of Human Rights so that the body focuses on major cases and interferes less with national governments.

The U.K. is one of 47 countries that allows the Strasbourg, France-based court to make the final decisions on domestic human-rights issues. Some of its rulings have angered Cameron and his Conservative Party for what they see as overreaching interference in Britain’s internal affairs. A 2005 order that prisoners should be allowed to vote was a focus of anger, with U.K. lawmakers rejecting such a move last year.

The U.K. took the presidency of the Council of Europe, which oversees the court, this year, and Cameron used a speech today in Strasbourg to push for an overhaul. He pointed out that with more than 150,000 cases currently pending, the court isn’t functioning as intended.

“The court should be free to deal with the most serious violations of human rights; it should not be swamped with an endless backlog of cases,” Cameron told the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly. “The court should ensure that the right to individual petition counts; it should not act as a small-claims court. And the court should hold us all to account; it should not undermine its own reputation by going over national decisions where it does not need to.”

Any changes to the way the court works would require the agreement of all 47 countries.

Cameron’s office said that between 1959 and 2010, 97 percent of U.K.-related applications to the court had ended up being rejected. The prime minister is seeking to make that happen more speedily. On Nov. 30, there were 3,650 pending cases relating to the U.K., putting it in 10th place. Russia was in first place, with 40,850 cases.

“We have seen a massive inflation in the number of cases,” Cameron said. “In the first 40 years of its existence, 45,000 cases were presented to the court. In 2010 alone, 61,300 applications were presented.”

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