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S.A.S. v. France: Missed Opportunity to Do Full Justice to Women Wearing a Face Veil

July 3, 2014

By Saïla Ouald Chaib and Lourdes Peroni

This week, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights published its long-expected judgment in S.A.S. v. France. The case concerns a ban on the wearing of face veils in the public space. Although the outcome of such highly debated cases is always unpredictable, we hoped that the Court would take this opportunity to bring procedural and substantive justice to the women wearing a face veil in Europe.[1] Alas, the Court disappointingly decided the case by granting a wide margin of appreciation to France and by consequently not finding a violation of any of the ECHR provisions invoked, in particular freedom of religion, the right to private life and non-discrimination. At the same time, however, the judgment contains some positive aspects, namely respect for several requirements of what is known as “procedural justice” and departure from previous case law portraying Muslim women as oppressed. In this post, we share our first impressions on what we think are some positive and negative aspects of the Court’s reasoning. Read more…

Neighbourly Murders* , Forced Forgetting and European Justice – Marguš v Croatia

June 30, 2014

This guest post was written by Carole Lyons, Law School, RGU, Scotland

On 27 May 2014, a Grand Chamber of the ECtHR, in Margus v Croatia, pronounced upon the contentious issue of the use of amnesties in post-conflict settings. The case concerned a Croatian army commander who had been convicted of several murders of civilians in 1991. He had benefited from an amnesty in relation to the murders in 1997 but in 2007 was convicted of war crimes. Just two months before Croatia became a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) in November 1996, the Croatian Parliament had passed a Law on General Amnesty.[1] Under the provisions of the latter, immunity from prosecution was granted in relation to crimes committed during the war which took place between 1991 and 1995 after Croatia’s declaration of independence from the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Read more…

Fernández Martínez v. Spain: The Grand Chamber Putting the Brakes on the ‘Ministerial Exception’ for Europe?

June 23, 2014

Recently, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights delivered its eagerly awaited judgment in Fernández Martínez v. Spain. The case concerned the refusal to renew the contract of a teacher of Catholic religion and ethics in a public secondary school, because he had allegedly caused a “scandal” when his situation of ‘married priest’ and his membership of the Movement for Optional Celibacy of priests became public knowledge. By a narrow 9-8 split decision, the Grand Chamber ruled that the applicant’s right to private life had not been violated.

Before the judgment came out, I was fairly confident that it would affirm what I have termed the ‘ministerial exception for Europe’ in an earlier post. Now that the judgment is out, I am forced to come to the opposite conclusion. Instead of confirming the reasoning of the Third Section, the Grand Chamber in Fernández Martínez appears to hark back to the reasoning in earlier cases, such as Obst v. Germany and Schüth v. Germany.

Read more…

Education in prison: right to education only protects access in case of ‘existing’ educational facilities (Velyo Velev v. Bulgaria)

June 13, 2014

In Velyo Velev v. Bulgaria, the Court found a violation of the right to education (Article 2 Protocol 1) in a case concerning the refusal to allow a prisoner to enrol in a secondary school operating inside the prison. While the judgment should be hailed for explicitly affirming that remand prisoners also enjoy the right to education, it is unfortunate that the Court continues to construct the scope of Article 2 Protocol 1 in a very narrow fashion. As a result the Court fails to provide genuine substance to the right to education in a prison context. Read more…

McDonald v. the United Kingdom: A step forward in addressing the needs of persons with disabilities through Article 8 ECHR

June 4, 2014

This guest post was written by Marijke De Pauw, Ph.D. Researcher at the Fundamental Rights and Constitutionalism Research Group (FRC) of Vrije Universiteit Brussel. Her research is part of the research network “The Global Challenge of Human Rights Integration: Towards a Users’ Perspective” (HRI) and concerns the fundamental rights of older persons.

In McDonald v. the United Kingdom, the European Court of Human Rights dealt with a case concerning the reduction in night-time care for an elderly lady. The applicant complained that a reduction in night-time care disproportionately interfered with her right to respect for her private life under Article 8 ECHR. Read more…

Stensholt v. Norway: Why single judge decisions undermine the Court’s legitimacy

May 28, 2014

This guest post was written by Helena De Vylder. Helena is a Ph.D. Researcher at the Human Rights Centre of Ghent University. Her research concerns admissibility criteria in regional human rights systems.

Apart from the new admissibility requirement – significant disadvantage –, the 14th Protocol contains a number of procedural changes. The competences of chambers and committees have been changed and single judge-formations (assisted by a non-judicial rapporteur) were created and given the competence to take final decisions regarding the admissibility of cases where such a decision can be taken without further examination.

The yearly statistics available on the ECHR-website (Annual Report 2013) suggest that the 14th Protocol did a wonderful job, as regards the speeding up of procedures. The backlog of the ECtHR has decreased enormously in the latest years and the renewed efficiency of the Court thanks to the filtering-mechanisms has been applauded. The single judge-formations contribute massively in this regard. However, the commented case sheds light on the other side of the decisions issued by single judges. These decisions are not published, but we had the opportunity to access one of them when an applicant who had obtained an unsatisfactory decision contacted the Strasbourg Observers. Read more…

German Court Injunction Banning Political Leaflet Violated Article 10: Brosa v. Germany

May 21, 2014

This guest post was written by Ronan Ó Fathaigh* and Dirk Voorhoof**

In a victory for free expression, the European Court has ruled that a court-imposed injunction banning a political activist from distributing leaflets targeting a political candidate violated Article 10 of the European Convention. The Court in Brosa v. Germany criticised the German courts for refusing to hold that the leaflet was a fair comment on a matter of public interest, as the threshold for proving fair comment was “disproportionately high.” Read more…

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