EU warns Brussels has powers to punish UK if Boris quits European human rights court

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Brussels has warned that future links over criminal matters rely on “a lot of trust and confidence between both parties”. The message came as a Government-ordered study considers whether to update the law to remind judges they are not bound by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg. The ECHR, which is separate from the EU, interprets the European Convention on Human Rights.

Boris Johnson agreed to abide by European human rights rules in the Brexit trade deal so Britain can maintain close cross-border crime-fighting links with the bloc.

But any decision by Downing Street to “denounce” its membership of the ECHR could lead to the EU reviewing those law enforcement and judicial ties, sources have claimed.

The ECHR is enshrined in British law by the Human Rights Act but has become increasingly unpopular with many Conservatives.

It is often used by people fighting legal deportation and critics claim the Strasbourg-based human rights court has often gone beyond its remit.

British judges are expected to be freed from the grip of European human rights rulings under the review being carried out by ministers.

Human rights lawyer Lord Pannick told a panel the Human Rights Act should be changed to make it clear that while ECHR rulings should be taken into account, they should not bind British judges.

Under the Trade and Cooperation Agreement, there is a guillotine clause that allows either side to terminate the crime-fighting pact if the other is deemed to have “denounced the European Convention on Human Rights”.

A European Commission source said: “Denouncement would mean repealing the Human Rights Act or doing something to render the ECHR ineffective.”

But a spokesman for the EU’s Brussels-based executive refused to comment on reports of the study.

He added: “The Trade and Cooperation Agreement provides for very close relations with the UK in the area of law enforcement and judicial cooperation in criminal matters.

“And, of course, if you have a close relationship in this area it’s going to have to require a lot of trust and confidence between both parties.

“That is why in the Trade and Cooperation, both the UK and the EU, including its member states, have committed to respecting fundamental rights, democracy, the rule of law and giving domestic effect to fundamental rights set out in the European Convention of Human Rights.”

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EU governments are expected to take a hardline approach to any attempts by Britain to alter its relationship with the ECHR.

One insider said leaving the Strasbourg-based human rights court would mean “forgoing any deal requiring exchange of information, access to criminal databases, data adequacy and migration cooperation”.

Human rights lawyer Lord Pannick has told a panel the Human Rights Act should be changed to make it clear that while ECHR rulings should be taken into account, they should not bind British judges.

This, in itself, has not been questioned by the EU but could cause issues down the line.

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Justice Secretary Robert Buckland, who launched the independent review, is “sympathetic” to the idea.

The expert panel headed by former Court of Appeal judge Sir Peter Gross is expected to set out its recommendations this summer.

It is also looking at ways to stop judges being drawn into matters of policy.

The government insists the review will “continue to champion human rights both at home and abroad”.

A joint submission from the Metropolitan Police Service and the National Police Chiefs’ Council warned that the duty to “take into account” Strasbourg rulings in domestic courts is “arguably now out of control and in danger of creating bad law that is unfit for the protection and preservation of human rights in the UK”.

In his submission to the review, Lord Pannick said he is a “strong supporter” of the Human Rights Act and “in general it is working well”.

But he said there were “concerns in Parliament” that it leaves courts “constrained by the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights”.

The peer said it “would be helpful” for the legislation to “make clear that the domestic court or tribunal is not bound by a judgment” of the ECHR.

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