Page last updated at 00:47 GMT, Saturday, 4 April 2009 01:47 UK

Judge attacks human rights court

Lord Hoffmann in the House of Lords
Lord Hoffmann said the court was "overwhelmed" by a backlog of cases

A senior British judge has accused the European Court of Human Rights of going beyond its jurisdiction and trying to create a "federal law of Europe".

Lord Hoffmann, the second most senior Law Lord, said the Strasbourg court had imposed "uniform rules" on states.

The judge said rulings that had gone against domestic decisions were "teaching grandmothers to suck eggs".

He said he supported the European Convention on Human Rights but not the institution that applies the law.

In a lecture to fellow judges, published this week, Lord Hoffmann said the European Court in Strasbourg had been unable to resist the temptation to "aggrandise its jurisdiction" by laying down a "federal law of Europe".

The court should not be allowed to intervene in the detail of domestic law, he said.

Lord Hoffmann - who is due to retire - added that this had led to the court being "overwhelmed" by a growing backlog of 100,000 cases.

The court's president, Jean-Paul Costa, said earlier this year there was a risk of "saturation" unless measures were agreed to reduce the caseload.

Pinochet controversy

The European Court of Human Rights aims to apply and to protect the civil and political rights of the continent's citizens.

The court, set up in 1959 in the French city of Strasbourg, considers cases brought by individuals, organisations and states against the countries bound by the European Convention on Human Rights, which are all European nations except Belarus.

In 1989 Lord Hoffmann had a decision of his overturned, after he controversially ordered freelance journalist Bill Goodwin to reveal the sources of an unpublished article for The Engineer magazine.

Over a period of seven years the case went all the way to the European Court for Human Rights, where it was eventually thrown out.

South African-born Lord Hoffmann also attracted controversy for his role in the extradition proceedings against General Augusto Pinochet.

The judge had contributed to a decision that the former Chilean leader could be arrested and extradited for crimes against humanity, without emphasising his links to human rights group Amnesty International.

He was serving as an unpaid director of the charity, and his wife Gillian was a long-serving administrative assistant at Amnesty's London office.

The case led to an unprecedented setting aside of the original House of Lords judgement.

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