The oft-repeated justification for making the European Convention on Human Rights part of the laws of the UK is to save people making the long and difficult trip to Strasbourg. Anyone who relied on Air France for that journey a week or so ago will know exactly what that means. Some flights were delayed for several hours while others were cancelled without warning or plausible explanation. Passengers had to make bus trips across the airport or Paris. Included was James Bulger's mother Denise, who travelled to Strasbourg to see leading counsel for the boys who killed her son argue that they'd been denied their human rights. Counsel were returned by Air France to the wrong side of London three hours late. The Government's QC, the normally placid David Pannick, was driven to fury when Air France cancelled his flight home and at first refused to let him on the last aircraft back. There were no explanations for this breach of his legitimate expectations, no apologies and no offer of compensation, even though Air France is perhaps one of the few companies in the world large enough to afford Mr Pannick's hourly rate. Perhaps the leading human rights lawyer may remind the airline that the convention's fourth protocol guarantees liberty of movement.
This is a busy week in Strasbourg for the UK government, what with the gay troops judgment on Monday and the Guernsey greenhouse hearing on Tuesday. While not quite into snail-in-the-ginger-beer-bottle territory, the Guernsey case may prove to be another example of major legal reforms flowing from apparently banal facts. Richard McGonnell converted a shed built for packing flowers into a comfortable bungalow without planning permission. He complained that the Bailiff of Guernsey was not only the judge who dismissed his appeal but also speaker of the island's parliament and the effective leader of its executive, visiting London regularly to speak for Guernsey in discussions with the UK government. The current Bailiff, de Vic Carey, is a charming and courteous man who recognises that his tripartite role may not be suited to a larger jurisdiction. Even so, he did manage to secure another part-time job last week, appointed to the Court of Appeal in nearby Jersey. And he is not the only public official in the British Isles with senior roles in the judiciary, the legislative and the executive. If the European Court decides later this year that the Bailiff of Guernsey does not have sufficient independence to sit as a judge, where will this leave the Lord Chancellor?
And what will happen to the Law Lords? That is the headline given to Sir Stephen Sedley's lengthy essay in the latest London Review of Books. However, it's not a question he answers. Although writers are not responsible for the way their work is headlined, it is a pity the learned Lord Justice does not tell us what sort of final court he expects to join when the time comes (as it surely will). He points out that there are now several sections of acts – the new Access to Justice Act, for example – introduced by Law Lords by way of amendment. Sir Stephen says it might be thought by purists wholly undesirable, but by pragmatists wholly beneficial, that the mover of such a provision should be among the judges who interpret and apply it. He sounds like a pragmatist to me.