Senior judge says that UK courts needn’t “slavishly” adhere to EU rulings

A High Court judge has said that British courts previously went too far in following rulings from the European Court of Human Rights.

Lord Toulson, a justice of the Supreme Court, said that in the years that followed the introduction of the Human Rights Act, there had been occasions when judges had felt compelled to follow rulings made in Strasbourg.

In a speech in London this month, Lord Toulson, who joined the top tier of the judiciary last year, said that the UK was not expected to “slavishly” adhere to every decision handed down from Europe.

“It is now generally recognised that in the early years after the Human Rights Act the courts went too far in regarding themselves as virtually bound to follow every Strasbourg decision,” said Lord Toulson, who previously chaired the Law Commission.

“The Act requires the courts to ‘have regard’ to such decisions, and that means exactly what it says.

“It does not require the courts to adhere slavishly to every Strasbourg decision even if after careful consideration they believe it to be wrong.”

He added: “If after careful consideration the UK court is unable to agree with some aspect of the Strasbourg jurisprudence, it is its duty to say so and to explain its reasoning. This is part of the ebb and flow of ideas between our courts and Strasbourg.”

There has recently been resentment among some MPs, who are critical of the stance that the ECHR has taken over issues such as prisoner votes.

Perhaps in an attempt to address the frustrations, a number of senior judges have insisted that the UK does have more room for manoeuvre than was previously thought.

The most recent comments echo those made by Lord Neuberger, the president of the Supreme Court, a few months ago.

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