Bouyid and dignity’s role in Article 3 ECHR

Guest post by Natasa Mavronicola, Lecturer in Law at Queen’s University Belfast.

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights recently delivered an important judgment on Article 3 ECHR in the case of Bouyid v Belgium. In Bouyid, the Grand Chamber was called upon to consider whether slaps inflicted on a juvenile and an adult in police custody were in breach of Article 3 ECHR, which provides that ‘No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment’. Overruling the Chamber judgment in the case, the Grand Chamber ruled by 14 votes to 3 that there had been a substantive violation of Article 3 in that the applicants had been subjected to degrading treatment by members of the Belgian police. The background and finding of substantive violation are outlined in Stijn Smet’s blog post here.

In this post, I want to concentrate briefly on the way the majority of the Grand Chamber unpacked and applied the concept of dignity – or ‘human dignity’ – in its finding of a substantive breach of Article 3, and distil some of the principles underpinning the understanding of dignity emerging in the Court’s analysis.

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Bouyid v. Belgium: Grand Chamber Decisively Overrules Unanimous Chamber

By Stijn Smet

This Monday, 28 September 2015, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights overruled the Chamber judgment in Bouyid v. Belgium (see our post on the Chamber ruling here). The Grand Chamber found a violation of art. 3 ECHR on the substantive aspect of the case, ruling by a clear 14 votes to 3 that the applicants in Bouyid had been the victims of degrading treatment at the hands of the Belgian police. This came as somewhat of a surprise, given the unanimous ruling of no violation by the Chamber. But it certainly was a pleasant surprise. In the first place for the applicants, who have now finally received justice for the ill-treatment they suffered at the hands of Belgian police officers. But also for us at the Human Rights Centre of Ghent University, since we had submitted a third party intervention in the case. In our third party intervention, we indicated that “the Grand Chamber judgment in Bouyid may well become a decisive moment in the Court’s case law on the interpretation … of Article 3 ECHR [and on] the protection offered against police violence under the Convention”. We were most pleased to note that the Grand Chamber has seized the occasion to set the necessary standards.

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New publication: Poverty and the ECHR

I’m happy to announce the publication of my article “Strengthening the Protection of Human Rights of Persons Living in Poverty under the ECHR” in the September edition of Netherlands Quarterly of Human Rights. In my article, which could hardly be any more topical than in today’s austerity-struck Europe, I address questions such as: what is the European Court of Human Rights’ record in protecting the human rights of persons living in poverty? What are the limitations of its current approach? What kind of legal approaches could assist the Court in better grasping the nature of poverty as capability deprivation? And how could this, ultimately, result in a stronger protection of the human rights of persons living in poverty?

This is the abstract:

In recent years, the European Court of Human Rights has developed a significant jurisprudence which illustrates the added value of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) in the field of poverty. Building on the findings of Amartya Sen’s “capability approach”, the article examines the extent to which the Court has grasped the nature of poverty as “capability deprivation”. It is argued that, due to polycentric concerns and a reluctance to overcome the negative / positive obligations and civil and political / social and economic rights dichotomies, the Court has only, to a limited extent, done so. Subsequently, three approaches are examined that could allow it to better take into account the findings of the “capability approach” and that could allow for enhanced protection of the human rights of persons living in poverty under the ECHR: endorsing a more complex perspective on the responsibility of the state; analysing poverty as a failure to provide substantive equality; and recognising the vulnerability of persons living in poverty.

Grand Chamber Hearing in Paposhvili v. Belgium: The End of N. v. the UK?

Few judgments have sparked more criticism than N. v. the United Kingdom. The high Article 3 threshold set in the case of a seriously ill woman expelled to Uganda where she died shortly after her return has been criticized both inside and outside the Court. Following what some considered a missed opportunity in S.J. v. Belgium last March,[1] the Grand Chamber now has a renewed chance to revisit the N. approach in Paposhvili v. Belgium. In a third-party intervention in the case, the Human Rights Center at Ghent University invited the Grand Chamber to reconsider the unduly restrictive approach adopted in N. In this post, I highlight the main points we made in our intervention as well as some of the parties’ Article 3 oral arguments during last week’s hearing.

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Oliari and Others v. Italy: a stepping stone towards full legal recognition of same-sex relationships in Europe

This guest post was written by Giuseppe Zago, Researcher of Comparative Sexual Orientation Law, Leiden University (*)

Last 21 July, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Oliari and others v. Italy had once again the opportunity to analyze the status of same-sex couples wishing to marry or enter into a legally recognized partnership. This resulted in a groundbreaking judgment, with the Court asserting that the absence of a legal framework recognizing homosexual relationships violates the right to respect for private and family life, as provided by the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) in article 8.

Its relevance is twofold, as the Court poignantly plunges into the current legal situation of Italy, and at the same time builds up on the outcomes of its previous cases, Shalk and Kopf v. Austria and Vallianatos and others v. Greece, to slightly, yet significantly, extend the interpretation of the ECHR principles concerning same-sex individuals who enter stable intimate relationships.

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G.H. v Hungary: Victim Status in Cases of Forced Sterilisation

This guest post was written by Adam Weiss and Judit Geller, European Roma Rights Centre.

On 9 June 2015, a Chamber declared an application we submitted on behalf of a victim of forced sterilisation inadmissible. She had already received compensation from the domestic courts, depriving her (the unanimous Chamber found) of her victim status. You are probably thinking this is a sour-grapes blog – and of course you are right, no one likes to lose, but we’ve already let of steam elsewhere. This blog is about the legal reasoning of the judgment: if you are interested in reproductive rights, or anti-Roma discrimination, or intersectionality, read on.

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Research methodology for case law analysis: An appeal for openness

By Saïla Ouald Chaib

The enrolment as a PhD student does not come with a handbook. Consequently, you are somewhat forced from the start to reflect not only about the research subject, but also on the methodology you will use. In my case indeed, I spent some time not only doing research on the substantive part of my dissertation topic, but also doing research on doing research. My dissertation focused on the right to freedom of religion in the jurisprudence of the Strasbourg Court and case law analysis occupied therefore a central position in my work. Very soon I was confronted with a lot of questions. Do I first dive into the literature on the subject or do I first analyse the case law? Which cases should I read and how many? How should I approach the case law? This blogpost does not intend to draw a roadmap of how to conduct case law analysis. In fact, there is no such thing as one case-law analysis method. Instead, I want to share one of the ways I analysed the case-law and how methodologies from outside the legal sciences inspired me in the process. Continue reading