Kenneth Clarke has dismissed an attempt by Chris Grayling and Theresa May to distance Britain from the European court of human rights as he issued a warning about the need to protect people from a tabloid "lynch mob".
The veteran minister described the court as "extremely important". He even appeared to take a swipe at the home secretary by saying that the ECHR is necessary for "unpopular individuals" pursued by the state at the behest of tabloid newspapers.
Clarke spoke out on Radio 4's The World at One after a report in the Mail on Sunday that May would like to include a proposal in the Tory manifesto for the 2015 general election to pull out of the convention. The newspaper said May would like the British supreme court, rather than the ECHR, to act as the final court of appeal.
The Mail on Sunday did not say whether May favoured repealing the Human Rights Act, which enshrines the European convention on human rights into UK law. But Chris Grayling, the justice secretary, told the Sunday Telegraph that a future majority Conservative government would scrap the act.
Clarke said he did not agree with his colleagues. He said: "On the European court of human rights, it is extremely important that we are one of the leading members of that and make sure we keep up the pressure that helps us put, mainly on countries in the former Soviet Union."
The minister without portfolio added: "In Strasbourg we win 98% of the cases. In British courts British judges do look after the rights of the individual. They won't just take the wise and arbitrary decisions of a minister if it is plainly contrary to natural justice or sometimes contrary to an article of the court."
Clarke launched a staunch defence of the convention, which is designed to uphold basic rights in the 47 members of the Council of Europe, which include Russia and Ukraine. The European court of human rights enforces the convention.
He said: "We can review the best way of applying it. But in today's highly tempestuous, tabloid-newspaper-dominated world with a lynch mob every week for somebody or other you need a convention on human rights, you need to be able to apply it particularly unfortunately when unpopular individuals being campaigned against in the newspapers are being pursued by officials or somebody. That is what the convention of human rights is for."
Clarke confronted May over the ECHR at the Tory conference in 2011 after the home secretary suggested that an illegal immigrant had resisted deportation on the grounds that he had a pet cat. He said: "I've never had a conversation on the subject with Theresa, so I'd have to find out about these strange cases she is throwing out."
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