The Grand Chamber’s ruling in Khlaifia and Others v Italy: one step forward, one step back?

Guest post by Denise Venturi, PhD Student in International Law, Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna (Italy) and KU Leuven (Belgium)

On 15 December 2016 the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) gave its much awaited ruling in the case Khlaifia and Others v Italy. The judgement follows a 2015 decision of the Second Section of the ECtHR that, in particular, found Italy – for the third time after Hirsi Jamaa and Others v Italy and Sharifi and Others v Italy and Greece – in breach of Article 4 of Protocol 4 to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The Chamber judgement was warmly welcomed by human rights advocators – and, besides, featured also in the Top Three of this blog’s poll for Best ECtHR Judgement for 2015 – as it upheld considerably the protection of migrants’ fundamental rights amidst the so called ‘refugee crisis’ in Europe.

It is questionable, however, whether the subsequent Grand Chamber’s ruling has been able to keep up the expectations raised by the first pronouncement of the Strasbourg Court. Due to the wealth of issues considered, it is not possible to conduct an in-depth examination of the Grand Chamber’s decision. Thus, this blog post is primarily aimed at providing only a concise analysis by focusing on the differences between the approach adopted by Strasbourg Court in the two judgements delivered in the Khalifia case.

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Resuscitating Workplace Privacy? A Brief Account of the Grand Chamber Hearing in Bărbulescu v. Romania

Guest post by Gaurav Mukherjee[1] and James Wookey[2]

On 30 November 2016, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) heard oral arguments in Bărbulescu v. Romania. The case was referred to the Grand Chamber on 6 June 2016, after a Chamber judgment delivered on 12 January 2016.  The applicant sent private communications on his workplace Yahoo Messenger account, which were monitored by his employer in accordance with company policy that no private communications were to be sent from workplace devices. The majority in the Chamber judgment held that this surveillance did not violate the applicant’s right to respect for private life under Article 8 ECHR, which immediately provoked critics to claim that privacy in the European workplace was officially dead.[3]

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Paposhvili v. Belgium: Memorable Grand Chamber Judgment Reshapes Article 3 Case Law on Expulsion of Seriously Ill Persons

In what is possibly one of the most important judgments of 2016, Paposhvili v. Belgium, the Grand Chamber has memorably reshaped its Article 3 case law on the expulsion of seriously ill migrants. In a unanimous judgment, the Court leaves behind the restrictive application of the high Article 3 threshold set in N. v. the United Kingdom and pushes for a more rigorous assessment of the risk of ill-treatment in these cases. For us at the Human Rights Centre of Ghent University, it was a thrill to intervene as a third party in such an important case. In our third party intervention we submitted that Paposhvili offered a unique opportunity to depart from the excessively restrictive approach adopted in N. We are delighted that the Grand Chamber has seized the opportunity to re-draw the standards in this area of its case law in a way that does fuller justice to the spirit of Article 3.

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Karapetyan and Others v. Armenia: Senior Civil Servants as Defenders of Democracy or as Lackeys of the Executive?

By Stijn Smet

A few weeks ago, a Section of the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the Armenian government had not exceeded its margin of appreciation by summarily dismissing senior civil servants who had voiced critical remarks on the democratic nature of the 2008 presidential elections in Armenia. The Court’s view on the need for a ‘politically neutral body of civil servants’ in its Karapetyan and Others v. Armenia judgment is worrying. It risks demoting senior civil servants to mere lackeys of the executive, impeding them from playing a potentially vital role in defending democracy and the rule of law.

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Magyar Helsinki Bizottság v Hungary: a (limited) right of access to information under article 10 ECHR

Guest post by M. Schaap-Rubio Imbers, PhD Candidate international public law, Erasmus School of Law  

On the 8th of November 2016, the ECtHR’s Grand Chamber delivered its judgment in Magyar Helsinki Bizottság v Hungary. The applicant NGO (Magyar Helsinki Bizottság) complained that the refusal of police departments to disclose information on the appointment of public defenders upon their request represented a breach of its rights as set out in article 10 ECHR. The Court held by fifteen votes to two that there has indeed been a violation of article 10. This judgment is the latest ruling on access to public interest information, and as such a very welcome elaboration of the Court’s position on the right of access to public interest information under article 10 ECHR.

Considering that others have already provided a good overview of the background and what is at stake in this judgement (here) and provided a general discussion of the case at hand (here), in this contribution I will focus particularly on the criteria established by the Court for access to public interest information under article 10 ECHR.

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Publication Book – Resolving Conflicts between Human Rights: The Judge’s Dilemma

Resolving Conflicts between Human Rights: The Judge's Dilemma (Hardback) book coverI am most pleased to announce the publication, with Routledge, of my book Resolving Conflicts between Human Rights: The Judge’s Dilemma. The book is based on my PhD research. Its first 20-odd pages – including the entire introduction – can be consulted here. This should give interested readers a good idea of what the book is about.

This is its first page:

Under the influence of the global spread of human rights, legal disputes across the globe are increasingly framed in human rights terms. In a myriad of court cases the world over, opposing parties can invoke human rights norms in support of their competing claims. Take, for instance, a labour dispute in which a church invokes its religious freedom to shield it from the complaint of a lay employee, who claims that his dismissal for having engaged in an extramarital relationship has violated his right to privacy. Or take the case of a politician who sues a newspaper for defamation, claiming that a corruption story on the newspaper’s front page has breached her right to reputation. Or the case of an adopted person who seeks a court order for the disclosure of information related to her origins, against the express wishes of her biological mother, who had given birth to her anonymously.

When confronted with such cases in which human rights conflict, judges face a dilemma. In ‘traditional’ human rights cases, in which human rights are opposed by the public interest, the former arguably function as ‘trumps’ over or ‘shields’ against the latter. Human rights, in other words, hold special normative force over the public interest invoked to justify their infringement. In ‘traditional’ human rights cases, the scales of justice are thus loaded in favour of human rights. When human rights conflict with each other, however, there are no ‘trumps’ to be played or ‘shields’ to be wielded. Instead, often difficult choices have to be made between superior norms that deserve principled equal respect. I do not mean to imply, here, that ‘traditional’ human rights cases are always easy to resolve, nor that conflicts between human rights invariably make for complex cases. But human rights conflicts do pose particular challenges for adjudication. Those challenges are identified and tackled throughout this book.

The central argument of this book is that human rights conflicts are uniquely problematic, in that they are special kinds of hard cases that require a distinct resolution framework. The need for such a distinct framework flows directly from the special normative force of human rights, as ‘trumps’ over or ‘shields’ against the public interest. Taking the special normative force of human rights seriously, I posit, necessitates a departure from the proportionality test in the specific domain of human rights conflicts. Throughout this book, I question the relevance of the proportionality test, ubiquitous in human rights reasoning, to conflicts between human rights. Instead, I propose an alternative (or refined) framework, specifically designed to tackle the hard cases in which human rights collide.

 

On a positive note: B.A.C. v. Greece

By Ellen Desmet, assistant professor of migration law at Ghent University.

On 13 October 2016, the European Court of Human Rights unanimously found in B.A.C. v. Greece that the Greek state’s omission to decide on an asylum application during more than twelve years violated Article 8 as well as Article 13 in conjunction with Article 8. The Court also considered that there would be a violation of Article 3 in conjunction with Article 13, if the applicant would be returned to Turkey without an assessment ex nunc by the Greek authorities of his personal situation.

This is the first time that the Court finds that an asylum seeker’s prolonged precarious and uncertain situation, due to an unjustified lack of action by the government as regards his asylum request, constitutes a violation of the right to respect for private life as guaranteed by Article 8 ECHR.

The judgment (only in French) has been discussed by Markos Karavias on EJIL: Talk!, and was mentioned by Benoit Dhondt on this blog in a comparative perspective, namely as a promising decision standing in contrast to the striking out of Khan v. Germany by the Grand Chamber. This post provides a complementary analysis of the Court’s considerations under Article 8 ECHR.

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