Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

Less power to the lawyers

Letter to the Spectator - October 6th 2001

Sir

The recent events in America and the possibility of further terrorist attacks make it all the more important to ensure that our borders are secure and that people do not simply 'disappear' into the community. Decisions made by ministers of both Labour and Conservative governments in the area of asylum, immigration and extradition law have been repeatedly challenged and overturned in the courts, often on the basis of powers taken by the courts themselves.

The unexpected High Court rulings by Mr Justice Collins, which ordered the government to open the doors of the Oakington reception centre in Cambridgeshire, thus allowing detained asylum claimants to remain at large, simply drives a coach and horses through an already overwhelmed and failing policy.

This shift in power from democratically elected and accountable legislators to unelected and unaccountable judges has gone largely unnoticed outside the legal profession, but we must soon decide whether we wish to allow the courts to retain these powers or consider introducing statutory legislation that limits or excludes judicial review in these areas.

If Parliament does decide that it wishes judges to have greater powers - and the Human Rights Act is an important step in that direction - then the senior judiciary should be required to undergo confirmation hearings, as they are in the United States, to ensure at least a minimum level of democratic accountability

Dr. Charles Tannock MEP (Con)
Brussels