Strasbourg Observers

The new powers of single judge formations and committees

February 18, 2011

“The year 2010, which was the sixtieth anniversary of the European Convention on Human Rights, has been an important year for the European Court of Human Rights,” writes the president of the Court, Jean-Paul Costa, in the foreword to the 2010 report.[1]

Indeed, Protocol 14 entered into force in June of last year, granting long-awaited new powers to the Court’s ‘bodies’ – single judge formations and committees – to help dealing with the increasing case-load. 

Research conducted before the drafting of Protocol 14 showed that 90% of the applications were declared inadmissible. Out of the 10% left, 60% concerned repetitive cases.[2]  Suggestions were made accordingly and later on included in Protocol 14 regarding those two findings. This resulted in an increase of competence of the single judge formations and committees (composed of three judges).

After the entering into force of the Protocol on 1 June 2010, the Convention was amended to reflect the changes. Articles 27 and 28 state the new competences of the single judges and the committees:

– A single judge may declare inadmissible or strike out of the Court’s list of cases an application. This decision is final.

– A committee may, by a unanimous vote, declare the application admissible and render at the same time a judgment on the merits, if the underlying question in the case is already the subject of well-established case-law of the Court. These decisions and judgments are final.

From the 2010 Annual Report one can see the data regarding these new competences: more than 19,000 applications have been declared inadmissible by the single judge formations, and 149 judgments have been delivered by the committees under the new procedure.[3]

A search in HUDOC reveals that almost all judgments delivered by the committees concern Article 6 paragraph 1 – length-of-proceedings cases. This is unsurprising, taking into account that there are criteria developed to assess the reasonableness of the length of proceedings (the complexity of the case, the conduct of the applicant and the relevant authorities and what was at stake for the applicant in the dispute)[4], and that the Court has had numerous similar cases regarding the length of proceedings.

Apart from Article 6 paragraph 1 judgments, there are a few Article 5 paragraph 3 judgments – which also concern the speediness of proceedings – and a few Article 8 judgments. 

All Article 8 judgments delivered by the committees concern cases were facts are very similar to those already decided by the Court against the same State. For the moment, these judgments concern only monitoring of correspondence issues. For example, the judgment in the case of Jovančić v. Serbia states:

“The Court has already considered practically identical circumstances in Stojanović v. Serbia (cited above, §§ 68-75) in which it found, inter alia, a violation of Article 8 of the Convention because the interference complained of was not “in accordance with the law” at the material time. Having examined all relevant circumstances, in particular, an absence of a specific court decision allowing interference with the applicant’s correspondence, as well as the ambiguity of the applicable prison rules and regulations at the relevant time, the Court does not see any reason to hold otherwise in the present case. There has accordingly been a breach of Article 8 of the Convention.“[5] 

Regarding the decisions of single judges, it is not possible to make any content assessment given that the Court lacks capacity to put such amount of decisions in HUDOC.

I hope that the transparency issues will be addressed and that an analysis from the Court itself will be presented in the forthcoming Izmir conference (26 and 27 April 2011, Izmir, Turkey), where an official evaluation of processes after the entering into force of Protocol 14 can start.

[3] Ibid. Germany has few judgments delivered by a committee before entering into force of Protocol 14, as that was possible for the states that had ratified Protocol 14bis (a protocol that was designed while waiting for Russia to ratify Protocol 14).

[4] See, among many other authorities, Frydlender v. France [GC], no. 30979/96, § 43.

[5] Paragraph 23. See also: PRZYJEMSKI v. Poland.

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