Friday 30 January 2009

Annual Report of the Court

Yesterday, at a press conference in Strasbourg, the Court presented its annual report. For Court watchers, the report presents a familiar continuation of the trends of the last few years. A rising number of Court judgments (1,543: up 3%) and 30,163: up 11%), but an even higher rise in new applications (around 50,000, up 20%!). This has the pernicious effect that no matter how much more productive the Court has become, 2008 has been another year of increasing backlogs.

An insightful table of judgments divided per country shows that most judgments were issued against Turkey (257), Russia (233), Romania (189), Poland (129) and Ukraine (110). Four out of these five (Poland excepted) reflect 57% of the new applications lodged in 2008. They will thus probably still top the charts of shame in the years to come. It seems that the Convention system is at its least effective in its (South-)Eastern parts. At the other end of Europe, economically hard-hit Iceland did not get any judgment.

As to the kind of violations, the usual suspects surface: the highest numbers of violations have been found under articles 5 (right to liberty), 6 (fair trial), 13 (effective remedy), and 1 Prot. 1 (property). These outcomes in themselves give some indication that many human rights violations are part of systemic defaults in the countries involved: trials that take too long, judgments that are not enforced, remedies that are not available. In his press conference yesterday, president Costa explained that one of the main lines of reform for the Court would be the effective execution of the judgments of the Court on the national level to avoid overburdening of the Court by repetitive cases. I predict in that context a rise of the pilot judgment procedure.

This year, some rights were spared the taint of violation (which does not mean that they are fully guaranteed, sadly): the prohibition of slavery), the right to marry, the right to education and the right not to be tried or punished twice (and maybe some other rights in the protocols, which the Court grouped as 'other rights').

More on all of this can be found in the Court's Annual Report over 2008, which also contains a handy overview of the Court's cases of that year. I would particularly like to draw the readers' attention to the last two pages, in which one can find a table of allocated applications per country as a ratio of its population. This picture of the 'relative' problems (as compared to the absolute ones) is telling: In the top 4 one finds on places 4, 3, and 2 respectively: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Moldova, and Georgia. This might not be too surprising to many people, but what is interesting is the number 1 place of the highest number of applications per 10,000 people is: Slovenia! I leave it to the curious to analyse what the reason for this may be.

Today the Court will formally start the judicial year 2009. More on that next week!