Friday 19 February 2010

Interlaken Declaration and Protocol 14

Double news from Switzerland. First, Protocol 14 will now finally enter into force on 1 June, after yesterday's reposit - just before the start of the Interlaken Conference - by Russia of its instrument of ratification. Read the relieved press statements of the Swiss president of the Committee of Ministers, the Council of Europe's Secretary-General, and the president of the Parliamentary Assembly. Finally, the way is paved for improvements.

And today, the 'High Level Conference on the Future of the European Court of Human Rights' ended with the issuing of the Interlaken Declaration. Apart from signalling the by now well-known problems (too many applications coming in, a huge backlog of cases, and problems with full and quick implemtation of the Court's judgments), the Declaration also contains an action plan. It must be noted that the Conference and Declaration mostly served to rally political support for the much-needed changes. The real work lies in the years ahead, and it is there that the Action plan ,which contains some specific dates, will be essential.

A few points of note:

* the right of individual petition is formally re-affirmed as a "cornerstone", but it seems that in practice the Court will increasingly focus on grave, urgent and systemic violations. In addition even more effective "filtering" of cases is called for. The Conference even calls upon the Committee of Ministers to consider creating filtering mechanisms in the Court which go beyond the single judge procedure. To all effects, that will entail an increaed role for the registry. Without formally abolishing the principle that all applicatinos will be considered, the result of such a development will no doubt be that the judges of the Court will increasingly focus on truly important issues. That in itself is a development to be applauded. Let's see how it works out in practice.

* Pilot Judgments will continue to play an important role, as the Conference sees it as the main way to deal with repetitive applications. But it emphasizes that it should become clearer when and how the Court will use such judgments:. It asks the Court to apply "clear and predictable standards" - many academics, including myself in this recent online article - had called for the same.

* As expected, a lot is also justifiedly asked from the state parties themselves. This includes seconding national judges and others to the European Court, both for support and for the exchange of experience. In addition, states are explicitly asked - or they are asking each other, since this is a declaration by these very states - to take into account the Court's case law concerning other countries in order to consider changes in their own laws and policies - an erga omnes effect in practice of the judgments thus now seems to have been accepted through this declaration.

* It is envisaged that - in order to avoid the long-lasting problems with the entry into force of Protocol 14 - future reforms of the Court will be made easier either by drafting a special statute of the Court which would include many organizational matters or in other ways. Before that can happen, it seems, one would still need at least one new reform protocol...

Let's hope that this fresh breath of alpine air will indeed save the Court from possible asphyxiation - as president Costa metaphorically labelled the Court's current predicament.

Find all the speeches and other information here.

For more on the NGO perspective on Interlaken, including a preparatory document, an appeal and a video, please click here.