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When law lords retire, they like to get things off their chests. With Lord Bingham last November, it was the view that Britain had invaded Iraq on "flawed" legal advice. And with Lord Hoffmann in March, it was that the European Court of Human Rights should no longer decide individual claims.

Bingham has a perfectly good reason for not expressing this view in 2003: it would have prevented him from sitting if the law lords had subsequently been asked to decide the issue. Hoffmann has less excuse: Britain first allowed individuals to petition the Human Rights Court as long ago as 1966, while Lennie Hoffmann was still teaching in Oxford. It is hard to escape the conclusion that Hoffmann wanted his term of office as a law lord to be remembered for something other than his 1998 decision to sit in the Pinochet case while he was "disqualified as a matter of law" - a misjudgment that meant he could never become senior law lord.

In his lecture to the Judicial Studies Board - the body that trains judges - Hoffmann said that the European Court of Human Rights "lacks constitutional legitimacy" because it has one judge for each of 47 states in the Council of Europe. He points out that the four smallest countries - "which have a combined population slightly less than that of the London Borough of Islington" - each has one judge. Russia, with a population of 140 million, also has just one. Does he really want Russia to have two or three times as many judges as Britain? Or does he think there should be nobody on the court representing countries such as Liechtenstein - which chose as its judge a South African-born, Swiss-trained law professor who had worked as a senior lawyer at the court?

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