Voices from the European Court of Human Rights

AuthorRobin C.A. White,Iris Boussiakou
Publication Date01 June 2009
Date01 June 2009
SubjectPart A: Article
Netherlands Q uarterly of Human R ights, Vol. 27/2, 167–189, 2009.
© Netherlands I nstitute of Human Rig hts (SIM), Printed in the Net herlands. 167
R C.A. W and I B*
e future of the Strasbourg Court, a large and very busy court, has been the subject
of much discussion.  e capacity of the Court to handl e the volume of admissible cases
remains a signi cant challenge, and is mad e more di cult by the absence of rati cation
by all contracting parties of Protocol No. 14. Ten years a er the establishment of the
new permanent court, nine judges re ected on aspects of the work of the Court and
the challenges it faces .  e main purpose of this article is to put into the public domain
some extracts from those interviews, which cover a wide range of issues.  e voices
from the Court are o ered in the context of an argument that the contracting parties
need to recognise the constitutional nat ure of the Strasbourg Court, and should be, but
probably are not, willing to change the admissibility r ules to make determination by the
Strasbourg Court a matter of disc retion rather than entitlement.
e European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) established a Court in 1959
(hereina er: the Strasbourg Court) which issued its  rst judgement on the merits in
1961.1 Since the entry-into-force of Protocol No. 11 on 1 November 1998, there has
been a permanent Court whose jurisdiction must be accepted by contrac ting parties
to the Convention. Since then, discussion about the future of the Court and its role
has been a feature of the literature in the context of a growing membership and a
growing case load.2 e prospect of a signi cant development through accession of
* Robin White is Professor of Law and member of the C entre for European Law and Integration,
University of Leices ter, the UK and Iris Bous siakou was a Resea rch Associate at the sa me university.
All interne t sites were last accessed on 9 Apr il 2009.
1 Lawless vs Ireland, 1 July 1961, Series A, No. 3, 1979–1980, 1 European Hum an Rights Report s 15.  e
Court had give n a judgement on preliminar y objections and question s of procedure in this cas e on
14 November 1960, Series A, No. 1.
2 See, especial ly, Greer, S., e European Co nvention on Human Rights. Achiev ements, Problems and
Prospects, Cambridge University Press , Cambridge, 2006 , chapter 7, pp. 316–326.
Robin C.A. Wh ite and Iris Boussia kou
168 Intersentia
the European Union is receding somewhat since this can only take place once all
parties have rati ed both Protocol No. 14 and the Treaty of Lisbon.3
Today there are 47 contracting parties to the European Convention on Human
Rights, and so 47 judges at the St rasbourg Court.  e Court ’s constituency is now all
those within the jurisdiction of the contracting parties, estimated to be in excess of
800 mill ion people. Since the entry-into-force of the Convention in 1953, the former
Commission, the ‘old’ Court and the ‘new’ Court have interpreted and applied the
provisions of the European Convention in a manner which has established a well-
developed and widely respected Europea n human rights discourse.4
e orga nic development of the Strasbourg system of adjudication since the entr y-
into-force of the Convention has seen a steady move from the early vision that the
interests protected by the Convention at its inception5 would best be served through
inter-State procedures to a model in which the individual is centre stage in the
protection of human rights t hroughout Europe.  e changes heralded in t he practice
of the Court, cod i ed and expanded in Protocol No. 9, and the signi  cant amendment
of the Convention in Protocol No. 11 have all shi ed the emphasis from inter-State
complaints to individua l complaints, and from politic al and quasi-judicial in stitutions
to a wholly judicial model of human rights adjudication. All ad missible applications
proceed to a determination by the C ourt whether in the form of a judgement following
adjudication,6 a record of a friendly sett lement,7 or by s tri king out. 8 Since 1 November
1998, all States who are pa rties to the Convention are formally required to recog nise
both the right of indiv idual petition and the jurisd iction of the Strasbourg Court. But
this has not meant that individu als have easy access to an international huma n rights
court for consideration of the merits of the compla int. Only something in the region
of two percent of applications to the Strasbourg C ourt result in a determination of the
merits.  e vast majority of complaints are r uled inadmissible either t hrough rejection
by a committee of three judges or as the resu lt of administrative action.9 For the lucky
3 Both treaties are st alled. Protocol No. 14 by the fa ilure of the Russia n Federation to ratif y it, and the
Treaty of Lisbon followi ng the Irish Referendum wh ich voted against rati  cation.
4 e case-law on the Court ’s own database, HU DOC, carr ies, as at 26 January 2009: 10,742
judgements; 13,583 adm issibility deci sions; and two advisor y opinions.
5 e four main original objectives of the Convention as listed by Greer are: (1) the prescription of
limits, in t erms of human rights, to the exe rcise of public power in European liber al democracies
committed to t he rule of law; (2) the provision of an e arly warning d evice by which any d ri towards
authoritaria nism could be detected and dealt with through complaints by other States; (3) the
prevention of war in Eu rope; and (4) making western Europe a more cohe sive unit and giving it a
greater sense of col lective purpose shou ld the Cold War turn ‘hot’. See Gre er, op.cit. (note 2), at pp.
6 Articles 42 and 4 4 ECHR.
7 Article 39 ECHR.
8 Article 37 ECHR.
9 In 2008, the Stra sbourg Cour t disposed of 30,163 applicat ions by decision on admis sibility and 1,8 81
by judgement on the merits, of which 16 were by judgement of the Grand Chamber. In addition
14,800 application s were disposed of adminis tratively. Source: European C ourt of Human Rights,

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