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Ten-year backlog of 10,000 cases dogs European Court of Human Rights

18 Jul 2019 / human rights Print

Ten-year backlog of 10,000 cases dogs ECHR credibility

The Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE) is pushing for reform of the European Court of Human Rights, with a focus on national-level training and practices.

The body, which represents lawyers from 45 countries, has added its weight to the decade-long struggles for reform of the machinery of the ECHR.

Acknowledging that some progress has been made, the CCBE says that the number of cases pending before the court has fallen, but the reforms have mainly tackled easy cases.

Delays to judgment are still regularly seven years and frequently over ten, the CCBE points out.

Yet more delay

The number of judgments per year has fallen and the Member States’ reluctant execution of judgments adds yet more delay to the resolution of serious cases.

“New ideas are needed,” says Piers Gerdner, (pictured) chair of the CCBE permanent delegation to the ECHR.

The specialist committee has focused for a year on identifying the worst problems and seeking practical solutions which do not involve amending the ECHR (too slow), recruiting more staff (too expensive) or accepting the current delays.

Reform debate

The CCBE, as a forceful voice of lawyers’ experience, has now joined the reform debate.

“It is not before time,” says the CCBE.

“As representatives of victims of human rights violations, lawyers before the Court are uniquely placed to understand the true cost of the current delays. They are also familiar with the procedure and can therefore propose practical solutions.”

The CCBE proposals, considering the importance of effective protection of human rights, and recalling that this is the responsibility of national authorities and courts, is concerned at the length of proceedings and execution of judgments.

Severe backlogs

There are severe backlogs on cases, the CCBE points out, and a risk that even after judgments are given (seven to ten years) that the execution of those judgments often takes a further five years.

In order to maintain the credibility and efficiency of the ECHR machinery, reform is essential, the CCBE says.

Reform must be implemented without delay without additional protocols.

'Contribute energetically'

It asks that lawyers contribute energetically to assisting the reforms, by participating in debate and by improved training at national level to ensure that submissions on ECHR points are effective and clearly delineated by national courts and to the European court itself.

Improved dialogue with senior national courts

The CCBE wants improved dialogue with senior national courts by developing a practice of endorsement of ECHR-related arguments in submissions, including as assessment of the national significance of the case.

It concludes that senior national courts can contribute immediately by including in their judgments a clear brief analysis of ECHR arguments, and an ‘endorsement’ of the strength of those arguments.

If a national court rejects a ECHR claim, then its judgment should state this in a defined, confined part , a succinct statement of its reasons.

National courts are already obliged to apply the ECHR, so this is not a new obligation, the CCBE says.

Practical measures

It also wants improved transparency and effectiveness by judicializing the triage of newly-lodged applications to the court, incorporating immediate case management decisions where possible.

The CCBE also calls for a simplified procedure for repetitive and manifestly well-founded cases, where these could be declared admissible but not normally result in a judgment from the Court.

It also calls for a three-judge committee to improve effective use of resources, and reform in the composition of the Grand Chamber to a fixed composition which would improve consistent interpretation of the ECHR.

Better case management could lead to a fast-tracking of urgent cases.  And additional training for the secondment of lawyers from private practice would accelerate work on the Court’s registry.

The CCBE also wants the committee of ministers which examines the court’s judgments to increase the time available for its meetings and move progressively towards a permanent session.

Inadmissibility decisions

Some reforms have already been achieved at ECHR level, such as the adoption of single judge composition for inadmissibility decisions, and strict formal rules for applications.

These measures have led to a “remarkable reduction” in the 150,000 pending applications in 2011/12 to the current figure of 56,000.

The CCBE concludes that, on the most favourable analysis, there are ten thousand serious, novel cases pending before the ECHR. Some have been waiting more than ten years.

Some 700 leading judgments still await execution, five years on.

The CCBE has also published a practical guide that practitioners may find useful: The European Court of Human Rights – questions and answers for lawyers.


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