Faculty of law blogs / UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD

The Future of the European Court of Human Rights: Time to Focus on the Big Picture



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Earlier this month, the Council of Europe published statistics indicating that 25,000 new applications were submitted so far this year to the European Court of Human Rights and almost 100,000 applications were pending judicial decisions. Since 2010, there have been numerous reform efforts to increase the effectiveness of the Court. Consequently, the backlog of cases and the time spent dealing with inadmissible lawsuits have decreased. Although inter-governmental work continues to further improve the functioning of the Court, it mainly deals with technical issues linked to the internal rules of procedure. It seems that the key issues that determine the effectiveness of the Court are missing from the debate or at least aren’t given the prominence they deserve.

For the Court to be effective, it must first and foremost have the political support of the Council of Europe member states. If there is any distrust of the foundations of the Court―such as the right to individual complaint or the binding nature of the judgements―then the very existence of the Court is called into question. Statements from the UK on potential withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights, which have intensified earlier this year, are particularly worrying in this regard. As Dean Spielmann, President of the Court, has said:

It would be a political disaster if any member state left the Convention. But it would be particularly disastrous if the UK pulled out, with its noble history of civil liberties

Although technical discussions on procedural improvements should continue, it’s time to refocus the debate on the reform of the Court to address the key underlying issues. The Convention and the Court are still the cornerstones of the only regional human rights system that provides for a high degree of individual protection. It’s particularly relevant in the absence of independent judiciaries inside some of the Council of Europe member states, where it has become the only accessible court for citizens seeking redress for human rights violations. The Convention and the Court are also the very foundation of today's European values system.

Note: All views expressed in this post are solely those of the author.