The Parliamentary Assembly at the Council of Europe has elected a new judge for the UK. Paul Mahoney, a former registrar at the Court, will replace the UK's current long-standing and distinguished judge Sir Nicholas Bratza.
Bratza has been a UK representative in Strasbourg for an extra-ordinarily long time. He served as a member of the former European Commission on Human Rights from 1993 to its abolition in 1998 and then became the UK's judge at the permanent court. He was recently elected President of the Court after Jean Paul Costa's term of office came to an end in November last year. Mahoney will take office when Bratza's second term of office expires at the end of October 2012. Bratza's extensive experience will undoubtedly be missed at the Court. Although Mahoney himself also has extensive experience at the ECHR and the Council of Europe. In sharp contrast with the length of Bratza's tenure at the Court, Mahoney will only serve 5 years of his 9 year term of office as he is currently 65 years old and the Convention requires judges to retire at the age of 70.
There are some interesting political dimensions to this appointment. It had been thought that eminent human rights barrister Ben Emmerson QC, founder of Matrix Chambers, was the front-runner for the position, with Mahoney's age supposedly counting against him. However, Emmerson's prospective appointment was apparently the cause of some alarm among the Tories who perceived him to be too liberal and feared that he would not respect the will of parliament, even though the Tories shortlisted him as a candidate for the position. The election of the peerless and fearless human rights advocate Emmerson would have raised a few eyebrows at Westminster. Emmerson represented Abu Qatada in his recent case against deportation and doubtlessly had a role to play in the ensuing "omni-shambles" related to that case, which was the cause of much embarrassment for the UK government and in particular Teresa May. While was almost certainly Paul Mahoney's last opportunity to sit as a judge in Strasbourg, the 48 year old Emmerson may at least have another bite of the cherry in 5 years.