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Judges accused over pace of change

Europe's human rights judges are too relaxed over the slow pace of change that is holding up key terror cases by years, Kenneth Clarke has said.

The Justice Secretary hit back after the British judge who heads the court told governments across Europe to stop interfering in its work and praised the lack of reforms in a deal signed in Brighton.

Sir Nicolas Bratza was joined by human rights experts as he told the council the final Brighton Declaration agreed between the 47 member nations would make no changes to the type of cases the judges could hear.

He said the court already had the power to dismiss cases that had been properly considered by national courts and was using it to clear a backlog of 150,000 cases.

But Mr Clarke said: "I'm not wholly convinced of that. It might have taken place anyway, but it might have taken many, many years. I won't accuse him of complacency but I am a little less relaxed than Sir Nicolas about the progress being made before the Brighton declaration."

The Strasbourg-based court is still receiving 3,000 admissible cases every year, despite the fact it can only handle around 2,000.

Mr Clarke added: "We don't wish to be quite so leisured, with great respect to Sir Nicolas, and we don't want to find out in eight years' time that the delays are less. We think we've speeded up the process."

"We're making sure that we require the court to act more promptly on the sort of cases that this court should be dealing with," Mr Clarke said. "Stop being so slow in getting rid of some of the triviality, stop hearing some of the very trivial cases where there's no substantial damage... and just to give prompt decisions on those fewer cases which require a decision."

And he dismissed Sir Nicolas's suggestions that the council's interference was risking the court's independence: "State parties have a duty to make sure the court operates efficiently. Trying to deal with that is not, in my opinion, threatening the independence of the court in the slightest."

The European Group of National Human Rights Institutions and human rights campaign groups all backed the judge's comments and warned the council against any new admissibility criteria.

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