The Coalition government has been hit by a blizzard of difficult court judgements from the European Court of Human Rights (Convention) and from the European Court of Justice (EU). They have served to underline just how constrained Ministers and Parliament now are, given the UK’s acceptance of both these jurisdictions. The European Court of human rights has become more activist, intervening in more issues. The ECJ’s powers were mightily strengthened by Labour’s signatures on the Nice, Amsterdam and Lisbon Treaties.
There will be some occasions when many UK people agree with the courts’ judgements. There will be other occasions when we disagree strongly. What many will also agree is that the issues they are now settling should normally be settled in Parliament, by MPs listening to public opinion and having to defend their voting decisions to their electors. They should not be decided by judges who do not have to explain what they conclude, cannot be removed from office, and have no need to heed UK public opinion.
I happen to disagree strongly with the recent judgement on insurance. Men should pay more for their car insurance because on average men take more risks than women. The insurance industry can measure that and reflect it in premiums. Men should receive more generous annuity payments for their pension savings, because on average men live shorter lives than women. Actuaries are employed to work these figures out, to keep the insurance company’s books straight. I do not see that judges have a better approach to running insurance companies. I doubt if the judges will want to be blamed or sued for some money if as a result of disrupting actuarial and risk assessments they undermine a few companies. If they do not want that risk they should keep out of the calculations.
The defenders of the court say it would be wrong for insurance companies to calculate risks by ethnic groups and to charge accordingly. This is an aunt sally, as no insurance company is doing this. Differentiation by age and by sex is accepted and makes sense for pricing risk. Of course a health policy for an elderly person is dearer than for a young person. So why shouldn’t car insurance for an 18 year old man reflect the likelihood of him crashing?
The Coalition government is currently introducing a Freedom Bill. It gives them the opportunity to bring the Uk into line with some of these European judgements. For example, the Bill does amend the rules on retaining DNA samples and details taken from innocent people when being questioned by the police. I welcome this change, though again I think it is an issue which the UK Parliament should be able to decide for itself.
Parliament has expressed itself clearly on votes for prisoners. Time will tell whether it also marhsalls forces to resist the insurance judgement. The growing list of disputes points to the need to change the balance of powers, but this Parliament does not seem to have a wish to tackle it.