Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Draft Declaration on British ECHR Reform Plans Leaked

The French and English versions of the draft of the so-called 'Brighton Declaration' (the seaside city where state parties to the ECHR will meet in April to discuss reforms of the Court and the Convention) have been leaked after the UK government refused to publicly circulate the text. Last week, the draft was presented to the Ministers' deputies of the Council of Europe. Amongst other, the draft suggests to include the principle of subsidiarity and the margin of appreciation explicitly in the Convention text - I am not sure what that would change to current practice, unless it becomes mandatory for the Court to give a margin of appreciation. Also, the time to lodge complaints after all domestic remedies have been exhausted would possibly be reduced from the current six months to two, three or four months. One of the most controversial aspects is that the Court would be barred from considering cases "identical in substance to a claim that has been considered by a national court", according to BBC reporting, unless "unless the national court “clearly erred” in its interpretation, or raises a serious question affecting the interpretation of the Convention" according to the Open Society Institute. This would carry in it the danger of almost completely taking away any substantive role for the European Court of Human Rights. It also suggests the possibility to appoint more judges to deal with a larger amount of cases and to introduce a possibility of advisory opinions to national courts, somewhat comparable to preliminary rulings of the European Court of Justice. Thus, the proposals seem to present a very mixed bag (many more than I could mention here) of efficiency enhancing measures and potentially dangerous ideas which would undermine human rights protection by curtailing the Court and access to it for victims.

Obviously, for Convention changes unanimity is needed. Even if the United Kingdom, and in its slipstream the Netherlands, seem to take a tough stance towards the Court, Belgium, Germany, and Austria seem to be opposed to curtail the Court's supervisory role in human rights protection. France seems to linger between indifference and sympathy for the British plans, according to Le Monde.

According to the Open Society Justice Initiative, this is the Court's own position:

Opinion of the Court
On 20 February 2012 the European Court of Human Rights sitting in Plenary issued an opinion in preparation for the Brighton Conference, responding to the proposals of State Parties. The Court does not offer a definition of subsidiarity, but does suggest that States must reaffirm their commitment to the system of human rights protection, which requires “making every effort to secure the Convention rights and freedoms at national level and accepting that these efforts are subject to judicial scrutiny at European level”. In a separate speech the President of the Court said that subsidiarity and the margin of appreciation should not be put in the Convention. The Court is unconvinced that the proposed new admissibility criteria “will have any significant impact on the Court’s case-load” as such cases would require “systematic and thorough examination.” Such options might be considered for the long-term reform of the Court, together with the possibility of the court selecting cases for adjudication, where there was an option of referring the cases not taken to another international process or to a national mechanism. The Court identifies four types of cases where reform is needed, and makes initial proposals for reform.

* Inadmissible Cases (Categories VI and VII). The Single Judge procedure will continue to be used. In addition, the Court is considering expanding the new filtering procedure to all countries and applying the six-month rule more strictly, which could be “reduced considerably” given modern communication methods.

* Repetitive Cases (Category V). There are 34,000 of these cases in the system. The Court proposes that a list of the cases is referred to the State concerned for them to be settled in an appropriate way, with judgment to be given in default if redress is not given.

* Non-repetitive, non-priority cases (Category IV). (19,000 cases). The Court proposes to extend the use of the summary procedure for cases that can be dealt with by “Well-Established Case-Law” currently used only for repetitive cases.

* Priority Cases (Categories I, II, III). (6,000 cases). Some will also be repetitive, such as prison condition cases.
The full text of the Court's opinion can be read here. See also the analysis of Noreen O'Meara of the University of Surrey on UK Constitutional Law Group Blog.

So who knows, we might - after all the obstacles of getting the previous change to the Convention ratified - be on our way to a Protocol 15! To be continued and watched closely ...

2 comments:

Hans Peter Lehofer said...

The English Version has also been leaked!

Anonymous said...

Thank goodness for the ECHR!
The silly UK judges who claim it is wrong to have a foreign court superior to them shoudl remember that that court is necessary as British judges are all too easily persuaded to ignore humna rights in favour of contributions from money men.
I have a case going through the ECHr after an idiot UK judge allowed himself to be swayed by perjurous statements from scumbag lawyers.