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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Some Thoughts on Case Law Selection and Why it Is OK to Make Mistakes (as Long as You Learn from Them)

By Stijn Smet

In this post, I aim to make two fairly straightforward points. First: methodology is crucial in any type of (academic) research. This is obviously the case for legal research as well, even if legal scholars have traditionally been less concerned with methodological questions than scholars in most other disciplines (I am painting with a broad brush here). Legal scholars are particularly prone to remain obscure on their methodology in their writings. But something seems to be moving in legal academia. Many of today’s PhD researchers are keenly aware of the centrality of their methodology. They seem to pay exceedingly careful attention to the selection of and proper application of their methodology. Previous posts by PhD researchers Dorothea Staes and Laura Van den Eynde, as well as the very organisation of this blog post series, are a testament to this welcome evolution.

I have written this post with an audience of such dynamic PhD researchers in mind. This post is meant, first and foremost, for them. Which brings me to my second point: it is OK to make (some) mistakes as a PhD researcher, as long as you learn from them. Doing a PhD is, after all, part of one’s education. It is supposed to be a learning process, from which you emerge as a (much) better scholar than the one you were when you just started. It thus seems only natural, to me, that you are likely to make mistakes along the way. And that there should be room for such mistakes. As long as you learn from them.

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The Results Are In: Poll on Best and Worst ECtHR Judgment of 2014

With an impressive 1,000 votes cast, the time has come to announce the winners and losers of this year’s poll on the best and worst ECtHR judgment of 2014.

We will not let the audience linger in anxious anticipation, but will get straight down to the nitty-gritty. Here are the results:

Best Judgment – Top 3

  1. Matúz v. Hungary (47%).
  2. Tarakhel v. Switzerland (29%).
  3. Centre for Legal Resources on behalf of Valentin Câmpeanu v. Romania (15%).

Worst Judgment – Top 3

  1. S.A.S. v. France (40%).
  2. Senchishak v. Finland (36%).
  3. M.E. v. Sweden and Pentikäinen v. Finland (6%).

Festive congratulations to the winner, sincere commiserations to the loser.

A few – speculative – words follow on why the winner might have won, and why the loser might have lost.

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Poll: Best and Worst ECtHR Judgment of 2014

In keeping with our annual tradition, we hereby kindly invite all our readers to cast their vote for the best and worst European Court of Human Rights judgment of the previous year, i.e. of 2014.

2014 was a year of many highs for the ECtHR, but unfortunately also of a few lows (both liberally defined as such by the Strasbourg Observers team). The good and the bad are reflected in our nominations below.

Underneath the polls, we have provided links to the texts of the nominated judgments and our blog posts on them.

Should you not find your pick off the litter on our shortlists, you can always surprise everyone by introducing a novel contender – potentially saddling us with a dark horse – by selecting “other” and filling in your preference (we will periodically provide an overview of the votes for “other” judgments in the comments section).

As always, we will announce the winners and ‘winners’ (roughly) a month from now.

Let the voting commence!


Links to the nominated judgments and our posts


Al Nashiri v. Poland / Husayn (Abu Zubaydah) v. Polandpost and post.

Centre for Legal Resources on behalf of Valentin Câmpeanu v. Romaniapost.

Matúz v. Hungarypost.

O’Keeffe v. Irelandpost.

Tarakhel v. Switzerland post.


Senchishak v. Finlandpost.

S.A.S. v. France post, post and post.

Pentikäinen v. Finlandpost.

M.E. v. Swedenpost.

Biao v. Denmarkpost.

Announcement: Event on Whistleblowing in Europe

We are proud to announce – on very short notice – an exciting event on whistleblowing in Europe, organized in Ghent by our Human Rights Centre colleagues Dirk Voorhoof and Flutura Kusari. The event links in neatly with Dirk Voorhoof’s recent post on this blog on the ECtHR judgment of Matúz v. Hungary. Below, you can find a short description of the event. For more information, including the programme and instructions regarding registration (free, but mandatory), please visit the Human Rights Centre’s website here.

The Human Rights Centre and the Centre for Journalism Studies of Ghent University are organising an event entitled “Whistleblowing in Europe: The Case of EULEX and Maria Bamieh.” The event will take place on Tuesday 2 December 2014 at 7 pm in Auditorium NB1, Law Faculty, Universiteitstraat 4, 9000 Ghent.

Background: The European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX) is the biggest international mission of the EU, with more than 1,600 staff members and an annual budget of more than 100 million Euros. In her function of public prosecutor for EULEX, Maria Bamieh filed several internal official requests to start an investigation against two of her colleagues suspected of taking bribes to shut down criminal cases. However, no actions were taken by EULEX. Instead, in October 2014 Ms. Bamieh was suspended for “leaking” documents to a local newspaper in Kosovo and a formal investigation was launched against her. Ms. Bamieh  is coming to Ghent University to tell her story as a whistleblower.

At the event, Ms. Maria Bamieh will give a keynote lecture: ‘A whistleblower’s story from Kosovo: a new challenge for Europe’. The lecture will be preceded by introductions by Professor Dirk Voorhoof and Ms. Flutura Kusari.

The Dangerous Implications of the “Naked Rambler” Case: On FEMEN Activists and Throwing Paint on Atatürk Statues

By Stijn Smet

On 28 October 2014, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the numerous convictions of Mr. Stephen Peter Gough – better known as “the naked rambler” – for insisting on appearing naked in public at all times, did not violate Mr. Gough’s freedom of expression.

Quite a bit of ink has already been dedicated to Mr. Gough’s case and to explaining why the ECtHR judgment warrants criticism. Particularly worth highlighting are the insightful contributions by Hugh Tomlinson over at Inforrm’s Blog and Marko Milanovic on EJIL: Talk!. Here, I will not regurgitate their poignant critiques. Instead, I set out to question a few specifically troubling passages in the Court’s judgment by indicating the dangerous implications they could have for other, analogous situations.

But first, as tradition dictates, I will briefly summarise the facts of the case and highlight the relevant passages of the Court’s judgment.

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Symposium ‘(How) Should the European Court of Human Rights Resolve Conflicts between Human Rights’

I am very pleased to announce the Symposium ‘(How) Should the European Court of Human Rights Resolve Conflicts between Human Rights’, which will be organised by the Human Rights Centre in Ghent on 16 October 2014.

The event will bring together an outstanding roster of European scholars and experts in the field: Samantha Besson, Sébastien Van Drooghenbroeck, Stijn Smet, Maleiha Malik, Christopher McCrudden, Leto Cariolou, Dirk Voorhoof, Eva Brems, Lorenzo Zucca, Javier Martínez-Torrón and Ian Leigh.

We are particularly proud to announce the presence of a number of (former) ECtHR Judges, who will act as commentators at the event: President Dean Spielmann, current Judges Ineta Ziemele and Paul Lemmens; and former Judges Françoise Tulkens and Lech Garlicki.

The Symposium will kick off with a general panel, on which three speakers will present their general approaches to the resolution of conflicts between human rights in the ECHR context. The remaining panels will each address a specific ECtHR case, namely Eweida v. UK (in the application of Ms. Ladele), Axel Springer v. GermanyEvans v. UK and Fernández Martínez v. Spain. Speakers on the specific panels will be joined in pairs and will present their respective views on how to tackle the conflict inherent in the respective cases.

The Judges commentators will evaluate the speakers’ arguments and proposals in light of the ECtHR case law.

Attendance of the Symposium is free. More information on the event, including a detailed programme, can be found here.

To register, please send an e-mail to Stijn Smet on hrcevent[at]