Council of Europe presses for rights court reform to ease backlog

Council of Europe presses for rights court reform to ease backlog

[JURIST] The Council of Europe (COE) [official website] reached a joint declaration [text, PDF; press release] Friday to undertake reforms of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] by the end of 2011 in order to address the increasing number of complaints. The ECHR currently has a backlog of approximately 120,000 cases, of which an estimated 90 percent are inadmissible or lack a legal basis. At the Interlaken Conference [official website; fact sheet, PDF], all 47 member states recognized that reform is "indispensable and urgently required" in order to"reduce the backlog of cases and to adjudicate new cases within a reasonable time," as well as to "ensure the full and rapid execution of judgments of the Court and the effectiveness of its supervision by the Committee of Ministers." COE Commissioner of Human Rights Thomas Hammarberg remarked [text, PDF]:

[T]here is a serious gap of systematic implementation by member states of the Court judgments. Behind these figures one cannot but see the necessity to improve human rights protection at national level.

Any discussion about the difficulties of the European Court must focus on the need for prevention. The main question is not why the Court has difficulties to cope, but why so many individuals feel the need to go there with their complaints.

The declaration's Action Plan recognizes the need to preserve the right of individual petition, but considers changes to procedures that will reduce repetitive cases and filter admissible cases. Some of the measures proposed aim to increase efficiency [BBC report] by reducing the number of judges required to carry out some of these procedures.

The Swiss Chairmanship of the European Council of Ministers called the conference [SwissInfo report] amid concerns that the additional protocol on human rights recently ratified by all COE members would be insufficient to address the problems the ECHR currently faces. In January, Russia became the last COE member to ratify [JURIST report] Protocol 14 [text], which includes reforms to increase efficiency of the ECHR with measures such as filtering out inadmissible and repetitive cases. Russia was initially opposed to ratifying the protocol, which it claimed was politically motivated since an estimated 27,000 of the pending cases originated in Russia and reforms would enable them to be heard much sooner.