Tuesday 12 May 2009

Council of Europe Reform and Protocol 14

The Council of Europe, which the European Court of Human Rights belongs too, is likely to proceed to implement reforms to the court system, despite the failure of Russia to fully ratify the reforming protocol necessary to achieve this (protocol 14 was originally proposed in 2004).

The reforms will try to free up the backlog of cases to the ECHR by having the admissibility of cases to the court ruled on by a single judge, rather than a panel of three judges, and by having routine cases ruled on by panels of 3 judges (rather than the current 7). The necessity of the reforms were caused by the accession of Russia, Ukraine and Romania to the European Convention on Human Rights, precipitating a flood of applications to the court. The UK was previously a source of many complaints to the court until the Human Rights Act 1998 was introduced; this meant that human right cases are usually resolved in the national court system before they have a chance to progress to the ECHR in Strasbourg.

Foreign ministers meeting in Madrid will vote on implementation of the reforms, which, if passed, will create a 2-tier system within the ECHR. However, it will be a great improvement to the system and will boost the effectiveness and credibility of the court.

A case from Ireland concerning abortion is seeking to be heard at the ECHR before going through the national court system. The main argument against this is the need to exhaust all national remedies first, and the need to protect the ECHR from being overwhelmed with applications. It will be interesting to see if these reforms will have an impact on the court's approach.

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