Yesterday, the European Court of Human Rights elected Sir Nicholas Bratza as its new president. When the term of the current president, the French judge Costa, ends at the beginning of November, Bratza will succeed him in that position. The 66-year old Bratza is by far one of the most experienced judges in Strasbourg. He has been a juge at the Court ever since it became a fulltime Court in 1998. and before that, he had served as a member of the European Commission of Human Rights between 1993 and 1998. Bratza was section president between 1998 and 2000 and has been in that function for the second time ever since 2001. Since 2007 he has also been vice-president of the Court. He was elected in the position of president by his fellow judges in a secret ballot.
Bratza in many ways is a true European, with a Serbian father (famous violinist Milan Bratza) and an English mother. Several newspapers yesterday and today pointed to the fact that there might be political considerations for electing the British judge as president. After all, the United Kingdom is probably the country where debates about the Court are currently most vehement. Although it may be a nice coincidence that the external face of the Court is British, I think experience and seniority weighed more heavily in the minds of the judges when they had to cast their vote. With his extensive experience, Sir Nicholas is simply one of the judges with the largest institutional memory. With an ever-expanding case-load, that is a very welcome thing in order to ensure coherence and to avoid reinventing the wheel all the time.
Re-reading an old interview with Bratza in the British newspaper the Daily Telegraph in 2003, one sees that the Telegraph had some foresight as it claimed that Bratza "stands a good chance of becoming president in the future - if he is prepared to give up some of his casework for the more high-profile responsibilities of the most senior judge, such as lobbying member states to support essential reforms." An Op-Ed in the Guardian of last February also argued Bratza's case.