The Prime Minister is trying to push through reforms of the European Court of Human Rights over fears it has too many powers to overrule national governments.
In a speech to the Strasbourg assembly, Mr Cameron said the whole concept of human rights laws was in danger of becoming “distorted” and “discredited” because of the court’s decisions.
“We do have a real problem when it comes to foreign national who threaten our security,” he said.
“The problem today is that you can end up with someone who has no right to live in your country, who you are convinced—and have good reason to be convinced—means to do your country harm. And yet there are circumstances in which you cannot try them, you cannot detain them and you cannot deport them.”
“So having put in place every possible safeguard to ensure that (human rights) rights are not violated, we still cannot fulfil our duty to our law-abiding citizens to protect them.”
Mr Cameron’s comments come just a week after the European Court of Human Rights ruled that radical Islamic cleric Abu Qatada cannot be deported for fear he will not get a fair trial in Jordan.
The 47 members of the Council of Europe have agreed that final decisions should be made by national courts where possible, but details of possible reforms are yet to be agreed.
He also wants the European court to defer to national legal decisions, in a challenge to Strasbourg’s ruling that Britain must allow prisoners to vote.
His speech to politicians on the Council of Europe comes just days after the European court overturned the decision of British judges over the deportation of radical Islamic cleric Abu Qatada. The Strasbourg court decided he cannot be returned to Jordan because he would not face a fair trial in his own country.
There is mixed support for Britain’s proposals in Europe, with many arguing for reform but less support for making the court defer to national judgements.
This week, Sir Nicholas Bratza, Europe’s top judge, accused the British Government of pandering to the tabloid press in its criticism of the European Court of Human Rights.
However, Mr Cameron is under pressure from backbench MPs in his own party to claw back power from Europe.
British officials are trying to push through changes while the UK holds the chair of the Council of Europe over six months until May this year.
It wants to address the backlog of 150,000 cases that have built up, with more than half of these against Russia, Turkey, Italy and Romania. Only eight cases against the UK—or less than one per cent of all decisions—were successful last year.
Dominic Raab, a Conservative MP and member of the joint committee on human rights, argues the European Court of Human Rights is conducting a “surreptitious attack on basic democratic principles”.
Writing in The Daily Telegraph today, he says the recent Abu Qatada ruling “subverts our democracy”.
“Strasbourg ignored three failed UK appeals to block the deportation of a terrorist suspect deemed dangerous by domestic judges, because he might not receive a fair trial in Jordan,” he says. “Putting aside the moral acrobatics in making Britain responsible for other countries’ justice systems, Strasbourg had never upheld the unfair trial defence to deportation before.”
On Tuesday night, Denis McShane, the former Europe minister, said he “doubted very much if there will be any support for any mechanism that gives the UK a privilege”.
“I am not sure what the Prime Minister can achieve,” he said. “It is good he is going and shows respect for the Council of Europe, which is the right place to be in to try and change the way the European Court of Human Rights works but I would be very surprised if he can bring anything back to placate the backbenchers. It is mission undeliverable because of the continuing Tory isolation in the corridors of European power.”