Wednesday 28 February 2018

The Draft Copenhagen Declaration - Comment Series III

The third episode in our series on the draft Copenhagen Declaration focuses on process-based review and was written by my Utrecht colleague and SIM fellow Leonie Huijbers:

The Draft Copenhagen Declaration – Process-based review and subsidiarity

Leonie Huijbers, PhD Candidate, Utrecht University

With the publication of the list of priorities for the Danish Chairmanship in November 2017, it became publicly clear that the Danes would push for yet another debate on the future of the Convention system. According to the Danish Chairmanship, such a debate is needed because ‘support’ for the Convention system is diminishing and the authority of the Court is (actively) questioned by European citizens and national policy-makers. Ironically, the Danes themselves were faced with a lack of support for their plans to engage in another round of reform deliberations. The Council of Europe bodies appear to be a little tired of all the reforms and have questioned the usefulness of new reforms. Indeed a 2015 CDDH-report states that the challenges faced by the Convention system requires ‘allocating additional resources and more efficient working methods rather than introducing a major reform’ (p. 10). Nevertheless, to garner, as well as test, support for their ideas, the Danes organised a High-Level Expert Conference in Kokkedal, Denmark in November 2017 before reaching the current draft Copenhagen Declaration. Various actors were invited to participate in the Conference, not only politicians and statesmen, but also judges of the ECtHR and domestic courts, as well as academics and representatives of NGOs. 

One topic in the draft Declaration suggests that perhaps the participation of particular participants in the Kokkedal Conference has had a strong influence on the draft’s authors. This topic concerns the references to the principle of subsidiarity and the Court’s process-based review in the draft under the heading ‘European supervision – the subsidiarity role of the Court’ (paras. 22-30). The terminology used therein is reminiscent of the ideas expressed by Robert Spano, the ECtHR judge for Iceland, who also spoke at the Kokkedal Conference. Spano’s speech was entitled ‘The Future of the European Court of Human Rights – Subsidiarity, Process-Based Review and the Rule of Law’ (further elaborated in a forthcoming article in the Human Rights Law Review). In addition, the draft Declaration mentions that ‘the Court has engaged in more robustly applying the principle of subsidiarity and the margin of appreciation’, which reminds of the notion of ‘robust subsidiarity’ in an article by Spano published in 2014. Perhaps even more interesting is the question whether the proposals in the draft concerning the principle of subsidiarity and process-based review would indeed aid the Court in its work, or whether they mainly aim to limit the Court’s competences.

Political and Judicial Support for Process-based Review

Firstly, what is exactly meant by process-based review or procedural review? These notions refer to the focus of the Court on the decision-making processes of national legislative, executive and judicial authorities for determining whether a substantive right has been violated. It is generally considered that the Court is increasingly applying this approach, not only in cases concerning Articles 8 and 10 ECHR (see the Court’s background paper of 2015), but also in relation to, for example, Article 11 ECHR (for example, Öğrü and Others v. Turkey) and Article 3 Protocol 1 ECHR (see for example, Hirst v. UK (No. 2)). This procedural approach features, most prominently in paragraph 24 of the draft Declaration, which states:
‘where domestic courts have carefully examined the facts, applying the relevant human rights standards consistently with the Convention and the Court’s case law, and adequately balanced the interests at stake, it is not for the Court to substitute their assessment with its own, unless it has identified strong reasons for doing so’ (para. 24). 
The draft Declaration clearly supports such a procedural approach. The Court and the politicians therefore seem to be in tune with one another. Also within the Court, there appears to be a relatively widespread support for this approach. Even though not all judges are openly advocating this approach, as Judge Spano has done, it is clear that the approach has been applied in various judgments of the Grand Chamber. The formulation mentioned above also has been reiterated in quite a large number of Chamber judgments (already 67 judgments and decisions appear if one searches for (“substitute” NEAR “strong reasons”) in HUDOC). 

The quotation made in the draft Declaration refers to the famous Von Hannover v. Germany (No. 2) judgment, in which the Grand Chamber of the Court confirmed the approaches taken in MGN Limited v. the UK (paras. 150 and 155) and Palomo Sánchez and Others v. Spain (para. 57). In Von Hannover the Court, however, phrased its approach a bit more delicately than the draft Declaration does: 
‘Where the balancing exercise has been undertaken by the national authorities in conformity with the criteria laid down in the Court’s case-law, the Court would require strong reasons to substitute its view for that of the domestic courts.’ 
This blog argues that these differences in wording are rather significant and may even be crucial for the further development of the Court’s process-based approach. 

Misinterpretations of the Court’s process-based approach

Firstly, concerning the obligation for national authorities to carry out a balancing exercise in light of the Convention and the Court’s case law, the draft Declaration lowers the threshold. Whilst the Court emphasised the need for domestic courts to conform with the Convention standards, according to the draft Declaration it is sufficient if they apply human rights standards, whether national or international, and do so in a way that is consistent with the Convention standards. The draft Declaration therefore replaces the Court’s requirement of compliance and conformity with one of application and consistency. In combination with paragraph 14 of the Declaration, which mentions that human rights are ‘being protected predominantly at national level by State authorities in accordance with their constitutional tradition and in light of national circumstances’, this may easily reduce the level of protection of fundamental rights the Court would need to provide.  

Secondly, the draft Declaration appears to connect the Court’s procedural approach in a one-sided manner to the principle of subsidiarity and the margin of appreciation. Where the Court in the Von Hannover judgment held that it requires strong reasons to substitute its view for that of the domestic courts, the draft Declaration phrases this in a more negative manner. It states that ‘it is not for the Court to substitute [domestic courts’] assessment with its own, unless it has identified strong reasons for doing so’ (para. 24). The draft also mentions that ‘[i]f a genuine balancing of interests has taken place at the national level, it is not the Court’s task to conduct the proportionality assessment afresh’ (para. 24), and that the Court ‘should not take on the role of States Parties’ (para. 22). The draft Declaration therefore suggests that the Court’s task is not to look into the substantive proportionality of a measure or into the facts of a case (see also para. 25), when such an assessment has already been carried out by domestic courts. Only in very exceptional circumstance this would be different, i.e., in case the Court has been able to explicitly identify strong reasons that allow it to substitute the domestic courts’ view for its own. 

This concerns a misapprehension of how the Court’s procedural turn should be related to its subsidiary role. Although process-based review relates to the principle of subsidiarity, a more ‘robust’ application (para. 27) of that principle and the margin of appreciation neither means that the Court’s review is limited to a procedural assessment per se, nor that the Court can only step in when national authorities have flagrantly misapplied the Convention. Such a scenario would leave the Court’s review without any ‘bite’, as it would lower the protection provided by the Convention, and it would facilitate procedural ‘window-dressing’ by national authorities. In its case law, the Court has instead connected process-based review with the principle of subsidiarity in a way that allows for it to supervise the implementation of the Convention at the national level (in conformity with Articles 1 and 19 ECHR). It has done so by accepting process-based considerations as relevant factors for determining the scope of the margin of appreciation (see for a recent example Ndidi v. UK, para. 76). It should be stressed here that this is only one of the relevant factors, as also indicated in the Court’s opinion on the draft Declaration, and that it is for the Court to determine the margin afforded on the basis of several factors. 

Where the Court’s process-based review is linked with the margin of appreciation, it in fact works in two directions. The Court might grant a wide margin of appreciation to national authorities when they have carefully and adequately carried out a balancing exercise in accordance with the Convention and the Court’s case law – so if they have truly ‘brought human rights home’. If the national authorities have failed to carry out their task, however, the Court is likely to narrow the national authorities’ margin of appreciation. It will then strictly scrutinise the outcome of a decision, or even find a (procedural) violation of the right. In other words, process-based review does not mean less European supervision, it means sharing responsibilities through building trust between the Court and national authorities. 

A final concern worth mentioning relates to the way in which the draft Declaration portrays the Court’s approach concerning the national legislative and executive authorities. On the one hand, in relation to the Court’s process-based review, the draft focuses solely on the Court’s approach regarding national judicial decision-making authorities. However, in Animal Defenders International v. UK the Court clarified that its focus on national decision-making processes relates also to ‘the quality of the parliamentary … review’. Procedural review is thus also relevant in relation to parliamentary debates and evidence-based decision-making (see also, for example, Hatton and Others v. UK, Grand Chamber). On the other hand, insofar as the draft Declaration also refers to the responsibility of national legislative and administrative authorities, it does so only in a supervision reducing manner. Whilst the draft encourages national authorities to check ‘in a systematic manner and at an early stage of the process’ the compatibility of legislation and policies with the Convention (para. 20(b)), in light of the margin of appreciation it mentions that ‘States Parties enjoy a margin of appreciation in how they apply and implement the Convention’ and that ‘in matters of general policy … the role of the domestic policy-maker should be given special weight’ by the Court (para. 23). This seems to indicate that only positive inferences can be drawn by the Court on the basis of the national decision-making process. The Court’s approach, by contrast, aims to ensure that legislative and administrative authorities make rational choices respecting fundamental rights. If they cannot demonstrate reasonable decision-making, then closer scrutiny by the Court is warranted. The Court’s rationale thus appears to be that protection of fundamental rights is assured best at the national level if all national authorities take fundamental rights into account in their decision-making processes. After all, prevention is better than cure, even if the cure is given by domestic courts. 

Suggestions for the Copenhagen Declaration

To conclude, one could wonder whether the use of process-based review actually ought to be part of a political Declaration. As indicated in the Joint NGO response to the draft, ‘it is not for a political Declaration to seek to determine what and how judicial tools of interpretation, such as the margin of appreciation, apply’, since such is ‘the sole task of the Court’ (p. 6). Surely, caution is warranted, especially since the way in which the draft Declaration describes the Court’s process-based approach and its relationship with subsidiarity, does not relate to an enhanced effectivity of the Convention, but seems to limit the Court’s substantive supervision of the Convention. Robust subsidiarity therefore appears to be a tool of the Danes to weaken the Convention system, instead of sharing responsibility in a ‘better’ way. If process-based review and the principle of subsidiarity are to be included in the Copenhagen Declaration, it is paramount that the Contracting Parties find more appropriate wording to guarantee the effectiveness of the Convention as well as secure the independence of the Court, and ensure the potential of the Court’s process-based approach.

This blog comment was posted earlier on the Strasbourg Observers blog. 

Tuesday 27 February 2018

The Draft Copenhagen Declaration - Comment Series II

We continue our comment series on the draft Copenhagen Declaration with a second contribution, by dr Lize Glas of Radboud University Nijmegen, on the 'dialogue' aspects of the draft text:

The Draft Copenhagen Declaration: ‘New Ways’ to ensure a ‘Strengthened Dialogue’? 

Lize R. Glas, assistant professor of European law, Radboud University 

When making public its priorities for its chairmanship on 13 November 2017, Denmark already announced that finding ‘new ways’ to ensure a ‘strengthened dialogue’ between the states parties, domestic courts and the Court would be a ‘key objective’. As could be expected therefore, the draft Copenhagen Declaration (Declaration) dedicates a special section to dialogue, entitled ‘Interplay between national and European levels – the need for dialogue and participation’. The dialogue should be mainly about ‘the general development of case law in important areas’ (para. 33, see also paras. 32, 41). Including a message about dialogue fits into a trend: whereas the first two ministerial declarations about the Court (adopted in 2010 and 2011) did not refer to dialogue, the two most recent declarations did. The Brighton Declaration (2012) encouraged ‘open dialogues’ between, among others, the Court and states parties. Comparably, the Brussels Declaration (2015) welcomed the Court’s dialogue with the highest domestic courts. 

In this blog, I analyse the three means by which dialogue with the Court should take place, as proposed by the Declaration. After all, the Danes announced that they would find new ways for engaging in dialogue with the Court. The Declaration nevertheless also refers to already existing channels through which dialogue can take place (para. 37): the Court’s Superior Courts Network and thematic discussions in the Committee of Ministers. Additionally, the document mentions Protocol 16, which, upon its entry into force, gives the highest domestic courts the possibility to request an advisory opinion from the Court. 

Intervening as a third party

State third-party are another possibility for dialogue. This possibility has existed since 1982. The Court is asked to ‘support increased interventions by States Parties’ (para. 39). I agree that interventions are a useful – albeit not a very new – way to engage in dialogue. Interventions are useful, because, as the Court has noted, its judgments establish precedents to ‘a greater or lesser extent’. Consequently, a judgment may be relevant to states other than the respondent state. Interventions make it possible to give input into a judgment to which the states may have to abide. The intervening states can, for example, inform the Court about the consequences that a certain decision will have for them. Furthermore, interventions can help the Court to establish whether consensus exists. Interventions are also way for the states to cooperate with the Court and to thus share responsibility with it; as the Declaration notes as well, protecting the Convention rights is a shared responsibility (para. 7). Finally, the states have hardly any means to directly engage in a dialogue with the Court when they are not the respondent state and interventions offer such a unique possibility. 

The Declaration calls upon the states parties to ‘increase coordination and co-operation on third party interventions, including by communicating more systematically through the Government Agents Network on cases of potential interest’ (para. 40). I would say that actually intervening should be an equally high or even higher priority. Research that I conducted into state third-party interventions (and on which I rely throughout this section) showed that there were only 59 cases with one or more interventions by states under Article 36(2) ECHR until 15 June 2016. The UK submitted a large number of interventions (23), whereas 15 states had never intervened. Denmark had intervened only once. The number of such interventions is very low, both compared to the number of interventions of NGOs and the total number of judgments adopted. A more far-reaching measure that the states could take would be to amend Article 36(2) ECHR to delete the requirement that states must request leave to intervene. In practice, the states already have a right to intervene based on that provision, because the Court does not refuse them leave to intervene. The Convention could therefore be amended to turn the de facto right into a de jure right and, thereby, remove a procedural obstacle to intervening.  

Above all, I would like to repeat what Paul Harvey, a lawyer in the Registry of the Court, wrote on about two years ago: 

‘the most effective third party interventions are those which respect the Court’s request not to comment on the merits of a case, those which do not seek to advance their own interests and, above all, those which, in good faith, seek to provide real assistance to the Court in its adjudicative task’. 

My research found that the states do not always respect this request and often just want to advance their own interests. The states can, therefore, improve the content of their interventions. They can also improve the timing of their interventions, because they usually intervene in reaction to a Chamber judgment with which they disagree. The states could also intervene before the Court has decided a certain matter. Basically, the states should not see interventions as a means to express disagreement, but to cooperate with the Court so as to fully inform it about, for example, the functioning of their legal system and the consequences a decision may have for their legal system.

Instead of recommending the states to intervene, the Declaration calls upon the Court to ‘support increased interventions’. The Court should providing timely information on cases that could raise questions of principle (para. 39(a)) and notify the states parties when a case raises questions of general interest (para. 39(d)). I think that these two suggestions overlap and that they can be more specific. The Court could be recommended to invite states to intervene more often. Additionally, the Declaration could ask the Court to use press releases to identify cases that could result in principled judgments. These press releases should be made available on HUDOC and not just to the states parties. The Declaration also suggests that the Court makes the questions to the parties available to the states at an early stage (par 39(b)), but this happens already: on 15 February, the cases communicated on 26 January could be found on HUDOC. Lastly, the Declaration calls upon the Court to ensure that the questions to the parties are formulated in a manner that sets out the issues of the case in a clear and focussed way (para. 39(c)). This is indeed important, because the decision to intervene is often based on the statement of facts and questions to the parties (not just the questions). I am not sure how useful this recommendation is however. The recommendation implies that these statements are unclear and unfocussed currently and I doubt if that is true. Two other possible recommendation to the Court, which are not included in the Declaration, is that it could ask questions to the intervening states more often and refer to the interventions in is judgments more often. In this way, an actual dialogue can be seen to take place. 

Expressing support for referral to the Grand Chamber  

A proposal that is new to my knowledge, is that the Court adapts it procedures so that other states parties can indicate their support for the referral of a Chamber case to the Grand Chamber. The Declaration also proposes that the panel takes such support into account when determining whether the conditions of Article 43(2) ECHR have been met (para. 38). More input from more interlocutors can indeed strengthen dialogue. As discussed already, some judgments, especially Grand Chamber judgments, may be of relevance to states other than the respondent state. It, therefore, makes sense to give them a voice, also about whether a case should be referred. Furthermore, one reason to refer is that a case has a ‘high profile’, for example because it concerns matters at the heart of a sensitive European debate. Input from the states can confirm whether a case has such a profile or not. 

The current proposal is, in my opinion, unnecessarily limited for two reasons. First, the states can only indicate their support for referral. To make this mechanism more balanced and less a means to just criticise the Chamber, I would propose that it should also be possible to explain why a judgment should not be referred. Second, the proposal only refers to the states parties, whereas the Declaration emphasises that the dialogue should also include civil society (para. 38). I would therefore propose that ‘any person concerned who is not the applicant’ (cf. Article 36(2)) should be able to voice his opinion. This amendment would also suit the logic of the Convention system better, because civil society can also intervene before the Court. 

I would like to add some practical considerations. First of all, the number of judgments that the Grand Chamber can issue is limited. Therefore, the impact of the proposal will be limited too. To illustrate, only six percent of the cases for which referral was requested, was referred to the Grand Chamber in 2017. It is also important to realise that it will remain unknown whether the Court took an opinion into account, because the panel does not reason its decisions and has continued to refuse to give reasons, even though the Brussels Declaration invited it to do so. Just giving input, without knowing its influence, hardly strengthens dialogue. The motivation for not reasoning the panel decisions – the Court’s workload, brings me to the next point: the Court may also refuse the implement the current proposal because it will increase its workload. Finally, once Protocol 15 has entered into force, the referral procedure may become less relevant altogether. Protocol 15 will remove the possibility for the parties to object to the relinquishment of jurisdiction by a Chamber to the Grand Chamber (Article 3). Therefore, probably more cases will be relinquished and less referred (Footnote 1).  These practical considerations necessitate reconsidering the proposal: is it really worth it, considering that the Court’s workload (and that of the Agents) will increase? 

Discussing and adopting texts on general developments in the Court’s case law

The most spectacular proposal for a new way to engage in dialogue is, without question, that the Declaration encourages the states parties ‘to discuss the general development of areas of the Court’s case law of particular interest to them and, if appropriate, adopt texts expressing their general views’. The discussions ‘should respect the independence of the Court’. The dialogic element of these discussions and texts is, according to the Declaration, that they ‘may be useful for the Court as means of better understanding the views and positions of States Parties’ (para. 41). The Danes want to implement this idea soon, since they add that they will organise ‘series of informal meetings of States Parties before the end of 2019, where relevant developments in the jurisprudence of the Court can be discussed’ (para. 42). 

When reading that the Declaration underlines the need for dialogue at ‘political levels’ (para. 36), I already wondered how such a dialogue should take place. The proposal that I just described is the answer to my question. I do not think that this proposal should be included in the final Declaration. The Court is a judicial, not a political, institution. It is, therefore, not appropriate to try to influence the Court by, what will be, political statements. The proposal is also ill-advised, because the Court cannot react to the statements, it cannot engage in dialogue about them. Moreover, it should be recalled that Article 19 ECHR establishes the Court to ensure the observance of the engagements undertaken by the states parties, including their engagement to secure the Convention rights by virtue of Article 1 ECHR. Additionally, Article 32 ECHR stipulates that the Court’s jurisdiction extends to ‘all matters concerning the interpretation and application of the Convention’. Since the Court has jurisdiction to interpret and the apply the Convention in last instance (Article 35(1) ECHR), it would go against the spirit of the Convention to give the states parties a comparable task that would be, moreover, broader than that of the Court, as the Court does not deal with general developments in its case law in the abstract. In short, if the states really want to help the Court better understand their views and positions, they should make the most of their pleadings and start to intervene. 

Footnote 1: Lize R. Glas, The Theory, Potential and Practice of Procedural Dialogue in the European Convention on Human Rights System (Intersentia 2016), 344.

This blog comment was posted earlier on the Strasbourg Observers blog. 

Monday 26 February 2018

The Draft Copenhagen Declaration - Comment Series I

The ever-ongoing discussions about the Strasbourg Convention system have reached a new stage with the recent publication of a controversial draft Copenhagen Declaration by the current Danish chairmanship of the Council of Europe. In a special cooperation with the Strasbourg Observers blog, this ECHR blog will post a number of comments on this declaration in order to further inform the debate on this declaration. The series of six comments, published over the coming two weeks, is coordinated by my Utrecht colleague Janneke Gerards and by Sarah Lambrecht of the Belgian Constitutional Court. I am very grateful for their timely initiative. This is their opening comment:

The Draft Copenhagen Declaration – Food for Thought

Janneke Gerards (professor of fundamental rights law, Utrecht University, the Netherlands) and Sarah Lambrecht (affiliated researcher, Research Group Government and Law, UAntwerp, Belgium and law clerk at the Belgian Constitutional Court)

It is a well-known fact that the ECHR system of fundamental rights protection is almost continually under construction. Since the major overhaul of the Court’s structure with the entry into force of Protocol No 11 in 1998, there has been a nearly constant flow of ideas for change. Perhaps, the Court should become more constitutional court-like, or rather enhance its objective of offering individual justice. Perhaps, the Court should more actively steer national interpretations of the Convention, or rather be more restrained and more respectful of national diversity. Surely, the Court should be better equipped to deal with the continuous stream of tens of thousands incoming complaints and to handle their extraordinarily diverse nature, ranging from being repetitive and legally uninteresting to posing new, challenging and complex issues.  

The Court today is very different from the one created by Protocol No 11. In the course of two decades, the Court has been transformed into an institution that is highly efficient in disposing of individual applications which do not meet formal requirements. The Court has shown itself to be increasingly creative in dealing with huge numbers of repetitive complaints and it has shifted focus from offering primarily individual justice to justice of a more general nature. Also, the Court increasingly relies on the cooperation of national courts to share in its effort to protect the Convention rights.

Efforts for change do seem to have made a difference. Indeed, in his presentation of the Court’s 2017 annual report, the current President of the Court, Mr Raimondi, announced that the number of pending cases now has been reduced to 56,000—almost 100,000 cases less than at its peak in 2011. Clearly, this is good news. The changes made, however, have not eliminated the cause for concern. As President Raimondi also emphasised, the remaining body of pending cases is not one that is easily disposed of: about 26,000 of them are particularly challenging and difficult. Moreover, the Court has to decide these hard cases in a rather unfavourable or even hostile environment. In many States, proper implementation of the Convention and the Court’s judgments is lacking. And in some States, political unwillingness to accept the Court’s interventions in national affairs is evidently at the root of poor or selective implementation.

Against this backdrop, the design of the Convention system has continuously been the subject of much high-level intergovernmental discussion. Since 2010, the government leaders of all 47 Convention States have met from time to time to discuss the Convention system and its future. Thus far, there have been High Level Conferences in Interlaken (2010), Izmir (2011), Brighton (2012) and Brussels (2015). These High Level Conferences have all resulted in official Declarations. Each of these Declarations appear to contain three ingredients: the States’ support of the Convention system and their responsibility in upholding it, the subsidiary nature of the Court and the challenge of the overwhelming caseload. In each Declaration, the government leaders confirm their strong support of the Convention system and the Court, as well as the need for all States to ensure the proper functioning of the system by promoting awareness, execution and implementation. In each Declaration, the government leaders state that the Court should respect the principle of subsidiarity and not lightly intervene in national matters. It should allow sufficient margin of appreciation to the States, while still providing for effective and intelligible human rights standards. Finally, in each Declaration, concern is expressed about the heavy caseload of the Court and the Committee of Ministers, and in response, some new ideas and proposals are presented to help resolve this problem. The proportion of these three ingredients may slightly vary, especially at the draft stage, as well as their taste and style. Nonetheless, the cocktail itself has become a well-established classic.

What difference have these Declarations made in the ongoing reform of the Convention system? A considerable amount, it appears. Many of the concrete proposals for change made in the Interlaken and Izmir Declarations have been implemented, to the effect—as already mentioned—that the number of pending repetitive cases has strongly decreased. The Brighton Declaration even resulted in the adoption of two new Protocols, of which at least one (Protocol No 16) could have a major effect for the Court’s position and role. The Brussels Declaration as yet seems to have had somewhat less impact, perhaps because the most important ingredient in this Declaration was the emphasis on the States’ own responsibility in implementing the Convention.

Whereas many of the proposals in the preceding Declarations have yet to be fully and properly implemented by the States, a new High Level Conference, accompanied with a new Declaration, is again in the making. The Danish Government has made the further reform of the Convention system one of its priorities of its Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe from November 2017 till May 2018. In February, a draft Declaration was published in lead-up to the High Level Conference set to take place in Copenhagen on 12 and 13 April 2018. While the draft contains the same three elements as previous Declarations, the rhetoric is different and several proposals are new. Both deserve close attention. 

The draft Declaration, firstly, invites the Court to adapt its procedures so that States Parties may indicate their support for the referral of a Chamber case to the Grand Chamber (para 38). States Parties are encouraged to intervene more (para 40) and to discuss the general development of areas of the Court’s case law of particular interest to them and, if appropriate, adopt texts expressing their general views (para 41). Informal meetings of States Parties should be held before the end of 2019, where relevant developments in the jurisprudence of the Court can be discussed (para 42). A strikingly new proposition to reduce the Court’s caseload is to remove all cases stemming from conflicts between States Parties from the Court’s remit by establishing separate mechanisms or other means (para  54).

Secondly, in contrast to the 2015 Brussels Declaration, the overall emphasis of concern has moved away from the urgent matter of better national implementation of Convention rights and execution of judgments, as justly pointed out in the joint response of a number of human rights organisations. Instead, much attention is placed on the Court’s subsidiary role and the limits of its competences, which are extensively described and emphasised, perhaps unsurprisingly, with a strong focus on immigration and asylum cases (par. 25-26). Equally clear is that the familiar language of ‘shared responsibility’ and ‘dialogue’ is used in a significantly different manner than in the 2015 Brussels Declaration. A ‘better’ or at least a different balance of shared responsibility is sought by the Danish Government through increased dialogue and participation. In this context, however, it seems that a rather particular definition is given to the notions of ‘dialogue’ and ‘participation’, which mainly implies greater possibilities for intervention by the States in the procedures before the Court and even in its case law. Indeed, some of the proposals aimed at the objective of ‘better’ balancing shared responsibility need to be carefully examined, especially in the light of the need to safeguard the Court’s independence—which is a necessity for the Court to perform its supervisory role properly and provide effective protection of fundamental human rights of individuals. Indeed, this is an issue the Court has emphasised in its own response to the draft.

Surely, it cannot be denied that many problems and difficulties trouble the Convention system, and these clearly beg for solutions. Appropriate means to channel potential tensions between the Court and the national level should be encouraged, the States Parties have to be incentivised to properly implement the Convention and execute the Court’s judgments, and the Court should be put in a position so that it can usefully and effectively offer individual and general justice to the many applicants bringing their cases. However, it is open for debate if yet another High Level Declaration is the right answer to these concerns, and if the solutions proposed in the draft are the ones most urgent and desirable. There is thus much reason to pay attention to the Copenhagen process and the draft Copenhagen Declaration and to provide an academic perspective on these developments, instead of a purely political one. 

For this reason, we are glad the Strasbourg Observers’ Blog and the ECHR Blog offer us the opportunity to present a commentary to the draft Copenhagen Declaration. In a short series of blogposts, five academics based at Dutch and Belgian universities will comment on various aspects of the draft Declaration. Lize Glas (Radboud University) will comment on the proposals for increasing State interventions in pending procedures and other proposed ways to strengthen dialogue; Leonie Huijbers (Utrecht University) will consider the attention paid to the principle of subsidiarity and the need for more process-based review by the Court; Janneke Gerards (Utrecht University) will discuss the role of the margin of appreciation doctrine; Antoine Buyse (Utrecht University) will comment on the role to be played by civil society; and Sarah Lambrecht (Antwerp University) will give her views on the proposal for States Parties to discuss and adopt texts on general developments in the Court’s case law and the role to be played by States Parties in deciding on the referral of cases to the Grand Chamber. By writing these blogposts, we hope to provide a sound basis for debate on the Copenhagen Declaration and the Convention system’s future. We are already looking forward to your comments!

This blog comment was posted earlier on the Strasbourg Observers blog. 

Monday 19 February 2018

Book on Core Socio-Economic Rights and the ECHR

Dr Ingrid Leijten (Leiden University) has published a new book based on her PhD dissertation with Cambridge University Press. It is entitled Core Socio-Economic Rights and the European Court of Human Rights. This is the abstract:

'Core Socio-Economic Rights and the European Court of Human Rights deals with socio-economic rights in the context of the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). The book connects the ECtHR's socio-economic case law to an understanding of the Court's responsibility to recognize the limitations of supranational rights adjudication while protecting the most needy. By exploring the idea of core rights protection in constitutional and international law, a new perspective is developed that offers suggestions for improving the ECtHR's reasoning in socio-economic cases as well as contributing to the debate on indivisible rights adjudication in an age of 'rights inflation' and proportionality review. Core Socio-Economic Rights and the European Court of Human Rights will interest scholars and practitioners dealing with fundamental rights and especially those interested in judicial reasoning, socio-economic and supranational rights protection.'

Thursday 15 February 2018

Looking Back and Ahead for the Court

The opening of the judicial year (at the end of last month) always marks a moment of stock-taking for the European Court of Human Rights. In his main speech, the President of the Court, judge Guido Raimondi, expressed both optimism and caution. On a positive note, he pointed out that in a year, the number of pending cases dropped further, from 80,000 to 56,000 approximately. however, he also emphasized that the Court was nearing the end of its creativity in efficiency-enhancing measures. Among the still pending cases is what the President referred to as the 'hard core" : cases that merit detailed attention and cannot summarily dealt with. The end of the quick decrease in backlog may thus be in sight. In addition, the decrease hides large chunks of cases concerning systemic issues whose supervision has been transferred to the Committee of Ministers and are thus far from "solved" for the applicants (see the Burmych and Others v Ukraine case), as the President acknowledged. As to the issue of the strengthening of ties with high domestic courts, the Network of Superior Courts with the European Court as its node, has now expanded to 64 superior courts. 

Two other key developments mentioned in the President's speech were the start of infringement proceedings (in Mammadov v. Azerbaijan) as a challenging historical first and the introduction by the Court of of (limited) reasoning for single judge decisions.

At the same occasion, a seminar on “The Authority of the Judiciary” was organised at the Court's premises. Both the Presidents of the Strasbourg as well as the Luxembourg courts addressed the audience. An extensive background document accompanied the event, which provides a useful mix of Court case-law and references to other documents on issues ranging from the separation of powers to communication strategies for courts.

For the coming months, important events are upcoming, the most notable being the contested plans of the current Danish chairmanship of the Council of Europe with the Court. More about that, including NGO reactions, coming up soon!

Thursday 1 February 2018

Reminder - Call for Papers for Workshop at the Court

A reminder about a unique opportunity for academic researchers to present their work at the European Court itself:

On 21 September 2018, a group of leading academic centres in Europe, including our own Netherlands Institute of Human Rights (SIM), is co-organising a workshop at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. The workshop is entitled:

Responding to Legitimacy Challenges: Opportunities and Choices for the European Court of Human Rights - Researchers Meet the Court

In that context, we are now opening a call for papers. The deadline is 15 February 2018. This is a unique opportunity to present and discuss your work at the Court in the presence of judges, members of the Court’s Registry and leading academics!

Content of the Workshop
Challenges confront the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) and its procedures, policies and judgments. Criticisms concern the Court’s backlog, its methods of interpretation, its deference to domestic actors – or its lack thereof. Reactions from states include willful partial compliance with judgments or even principled resistance. These challenges have appeared in many different shapes: not just as criticism from State Parties’ governments, but also from domestic courts, academics, civil society organizations and the media.

Against the backdrop of these challenges, we organize a workshop at the European Court of Human Rights to facilitate informal exchanges among academics and members of the Court including the Registry. The aim is to identify and discuss both challenges and possible solutions. The event will address how the ECtHR may respond and does respond by varied means, including:
  • criteria for case selection;
  • the Court’s reasoning;
  • pilot judgments;
  • dialogues with domestic judiciaries;
  • the margin of appreciation doctrine.

Call for Papers
We invite abstracts of maximum 400-500 words together with a cover letter by February 15, 2018, in one single PDF document. The abstract should go beyond the standard conference abstract and include the key steps of the argument to be presented. The cover letter should include a 1 paragraph CV and explain the context of the paper: e.g. whether it is part of a PhD project, whether it is based on undertaken empirical research or part of ongoing research etc. Accepted contributors will be asked to provide a 4-5 page position paper, to be presented at a panel of the workshop. Travel funds will be available upon request.

To submit a paper abstract, go to the submission portal.

This event is co-organized by PluriCourts of the University of Oslo, The Netherlands Institute of Human Rights (SIM) and the Montaigne Centre at Utrecht University, the Human Rights Centre at Ghent University, Koç University Centre for Global Public Law and Hertie School of Governance, Berlin in collaboration with the European Court of Human Rights.