Human Rights Judgments - Human Rights Joint Committee Contents

5  Reform of the European Court of Human Rights

The ongoing reform process

5.1 The Government's Report to us on its response to human rights judgments includes a short section on reform of the European Court of Human Rights. It draws particular attention to the Brighton Declaration on the Future of the European Court of Human Rights, which was adopted in April 2012 and was the culmination of the UK's chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. Protocol 15 to the ECHR, which the Government is in the process of ratifying, gives effect to the amendments to the Convention which were agreed in the Brighton Declaration. The longer term future of both the European Court of Human Rights and the ECHR more generally is still under consideration by the expert bodies of the Council of Europe with a view to a Report being published by December 2015.

The reduction in the backlog

5.2 Since the Brighton Declaration, the Court has succeeded in significantly reducing the very considerable backlog of cases that it was facing by implementing a number of changes to the way in which it handles applications.[54] The Court is to be congratulated on making such dramatic progress in reducing the backlog of cases, which it is widely acknowledged was beginning to undermine its credibility. We are aware of concerns expressed by some about whether some of these procedural changes to reduce the backlog are preventing meritorious cases from reaching the Court, but we have not had the capacity during this Parliament to carry out our own assessment of whether these concerns are well-founded. It is therefore a matter which we draw to the attention of our successor Committee.

Increasing parliamentary involvement

5.3 Like our predecessor Committee,[55] we believe that enhancing the role of national parliaments in the ECHR system is the key to addressing concerns and anxieties about the democratic legitimacy of the Convention and the Court and thereby ensuring their long term survival. We are pleased to see that awareness of this appears to be spreading. It is acknowledged, for example, by the Director General of the Council of Europe's Directorate General on the Rule of Law and Human Rights in his Introduction to the Committee of Ministers annual Report on the Execution of Judgments for 2013.

5.4 In our recent Report on Protocol 15, we drew Parliament's attention to the potential significance of adding express references to the principle of "subsidiarity" and the doctrine of the "margin of appreciation" in the Preamble to the Convention. We explained that this signifies a new emphasis on the primary responsibility of the Member States of the Council of Europe to secure the rights and freedoms set out in the Convention. That new emphasis on national implementation casts a greater onus on Government departments to conduct detailed assessments of the Convention compatibility of their laws and policies and on Parliament to subject the Government's assessment to careful scrutiny and debate. Where the national authorities can demonstrate that they have conscientiously engaged in such a detailed and reasoned consideration of Convention compatibility, the Court will be more reluctant to interfere with that reasoned assessment.

5.5 We welcome and draw to Parliament's attention the fact that in the ongoing process of reform of the European Court of Human Rights, increasing prominence is gradually being given to the importance of the role of national parliaments in the ECHR system, including in scrutinising the implementation of Court judgments and in scrutinising the Convention compatibility of laws and policies. As our predecessor Committee observed, the relatively strong institutional mechanisms and practices that have been developed in this country place the UK Government in a good position to provide strong leadership on this question in intergovernmental processes in the Council of Europe. We recommend that in the ongoing process about the longer term future of the Court and the Convention, the Government becomes a champion of increasing parliamentary involvement in the ECHR system, beginning with the forthcoming Brussels Declaration on "Our Shared Responsibility" for the Convention rights which will be adopted at the end of March.

54   See the Court's Annual Report 2014, above fn. 23. Back

55   Fifteenth Report of Session 2009-10, Enhancing Parliament's role in relation to human rights judgments, HL Paper 85/HC 455. Back

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Prepared 11 March 2015