The draft Copenhagen Declaration and the Court’s dual role – the need for a different definition of subsidiarity and the margin of appreciation

By Janneke Gerards, Professor of fundamental rights law, Utrecht University, the Netherlands

The double-faced role of the Court

One of the recurring topics in all High Level Declarations is the role the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR or Court) should play in protecting the Convention rights. Article 32 of the Convention stipulates that the Court’s jurisdiction extends to ‘all matters concerning the interpretation and application of the Convention and the Protocols thereto’. The meaning of this provision has always remained somewhat ambiguous. On the one hand, the importance of the Court’s offering individual redress to victims of Convention rights violation has been stressed over and over again (not in the least in the Interlaken Declaration). On the other hand, the Convention’s Preamble discloses that the Convention was originally regarded as a first step towards the ‘collective enforcement’ of human rights. Apparently, offering general protection against human rights violations was considered an important objective, too. In line with this ambiguity, the Court accepted already in 1978 that under Article 32, its task is ‘not only to decide those cases brought before the Court but, more generally, to elucidate, safeguard and develop the rules instituted by the Convention’. Continue reading

The Draft Copenhagen Declaration – Process-based review and subsidiarity

By Leonie Huijbers (PhD Candidate, Utrecht University, the Netherlands)

With the publication of the list of priorities for the Danish Chairmanship in November 2017, it became publicly clear that the Danes would push for yet another debate on the future of the Convention system. According to the Danish Chairmanship, such a debate is needed because ‘support’ for the Convention system is diminishing and the authority of the Court is (actively) questioned by European citizens and national policy-makers. Ironically, the Danes themselves were faced with a lack of support for their plans to engage in another round of reform deliberations. The Council of Europe bodies appear to be a little tired of all the reforms and have questioned the usefulness of new reforms. Indeed a 2015 CDDH-report states that the challenges faced by the Convention system requires ‘allocating additional resources and more efficient working methods rather than introducing a major reform’ (p. 10). Continue reading

The Draft Copenhagen Declaration: ‘New Ways’ to ensure a ‘Strengthened Dialogue’?

By Lize R. Glas, assistant professor of European law, Radboud University

When making public its priorities for its chairmanship on 13 November 2017, Denmark already announced that finding ‘new ways’ to ensure a ‘strengthened dialogue’ between the states parties, domestic courts and the Court would be a ‘key objective’. As could be expected therefore, the draft Copenhagen Declaration (Declaration) dedicates a special section to dialogue, entitled ‘Interplay between national and European levels – the need for dialogue and participation’. The dialogue should be mainly about ‘the general development of case law in important areas’ (para. 33, see also paras. 32, 41). Including a message about dialogue fits into a trend: whereas the first two ministerial declarations about the Court (adopted in 2010 and 2011) did not refer to dialogue, the two most recent declarations did. The Brighton Declaration (2012) encouraged ‘open dialogues’ between, among others, the Court and states parties. Comparably, the Brussels Declaration (2015) welcomed the Court’s dialogue with the highest domestic courts. Continue reading

Blog Seminar: The Draft Copenhagen Declaration – Food for Thought

By Janneke Gerards (professor of fundamental rights law, Utrecht University, the Netherlands) & Sarah Lambrecht (affiliated researcher, Research Group Government and Law, UAntwerp, Belgium and law clerk at the Belgian Constitutional Court)

It is a well-known fact that the ECHR system of fundamental rights protection is almost continually under construction. Since the major overhaul of the Court’s structure with the entry into force of Protocol No 11 in 1998, there has been a nearly constant flow of ideas for change. Perhaps, the Court should become more constitutional court-like, or rather enhance its objective of offering individual justice. Perhaps, the Court should more actively steer national interpretations of the Convention, or rather be more restrained and more respectful of national diversity. Surely, the Court should be better equipped to deal with the continuous stream of tens of thousands incoming complaints and to handle their extraordinarily diverse nature, ranging from being repetitive and legally uninteresting to posing new, challenging and complex issues. Continue reading

The EU Court in Luxembourg is raising the bar on LGBT rights

By Sam MacMahon Baldwin, Attorney-at-law (Advokat) at Gorrissen Federspiel

2017 ended with the Strasbourg Court reaffirming the decision from Orlandi and Others v. Italy that Member States must recognize and protect same-sex unions – although the Court did not require recognition of actual same-sex marriage. Now well into the new year, it is the EU Court in Luxembourg that is pursuing LGBT rights and personal dignity. Two cases from January are set to raise the bar for EU Member States. Continue reading

JR and Others v Greece: what does the Court (not) say about the EU-Turkey Statement?

By Annick Pijnenburg, PhD researcher at Tilburg University

25 January 2018 is a date to remember for European refugee lawyers. In Luxembourg, the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled in Case C-473/16 that an asylum seeker may not be subjected to a psychological test in order to determine his sexual orientation. At the same time, in Strasbourg, the European Court of Human Rights issued its judgment in the case of J.R. and Others v Greece (application 22696/16), the first one in which it deals with the implementation of the so-called EU-Turkey Statement. The Court’s judgment in J.R. and Others sparked the concern of NGOs, who argue that it ‘gives legitimacy to conditions in hotspot and detention’ under the EU-Turkey Statement. This blog post examines whether J.R. and Others indeed legitimises it and, more generally, what (if any) the implications are for the EU-Turkey Statement. Continue reading

Human Rights Centre submits third party intervention in case concerning legal gender recognition

By Pieter Cannoot, PhD researcher, Human Rights Centre (Ghent University)

The Human Rights Centre of Ghent University[1] has submitted a third party intervention in the case of R.L. and P.O. v. Russia. The case concerns the refusal by the Russian authorities to legally recognise the gender identity of the applicants, who are two transmen. According to the authorities, both applicants did not comply with the condition of sex reassignment surgery. The applicants complain that the requirement to undergo various medical procedures for legal gender recognition violates Article 8 of the Convention. Moreover, R.L. also complains under Article 14 jo. Article 8 of the Convention that the State failed to protect him from discrimination and transphobia by refusing to provide him with identification papers reflecting is male gender identity. The full text of the third party intervention can be found here; the main arguments are summarized hereunder. Continue reading

The Whereabouts Requirement: Does the ECtHR protect the right to respect for private and family life of French sport professionals?

This guest post was written by Cathérine Van de Graaf, a PhD student at Ghent University.

In a judgment on 18 January 2018, the fifth Chamber of the ECtHR found no violation of the right to private and family life in Fédération Nationale des Syndicats Sportifs (FNASS) and Others v France. The case concerned the requirement for a “target group” of sports professionals to notify their whereabouts every day of the year so unannounced anti-doping tests can take place. The Court ruled that public interest grounds justified the “particularly intrusive” interference with the applicants’ privacy.

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Medical negligence after Lopes de Sousa Fernandes: a blank check to the Member States with respect to the substance of the right to life?

In the Lopes de Sousa Fernandes v. Portugal judgment of 19 December, the Grand Chamber made an attempt to clarify the Court’s case law in the area of medical negligence. Traditionally, the Court has examined cases of death resulting from alleged medical negligence almost exclusively from the viewpoint of the procedural obligations under Article 2. Those obligations require the State to set up an effective judicial system to determine the cause of death and to hold those responsible accountable (e.g. Calvelli and Ciglio v. Italy). In recent years, the Court seemed more and more willing to also examine such cases from the viewpoint of the substantive obligations under this provision. Particularly in the Chamber judgment in the Lopes de Sousa Fernandes case, the Court interpreted these substantive obligations in an expansive manner, which arguably would have turned the Court into “a first- and last-instance medical malpractice court” (joint dissenting opinion of Judges Sajó and Tsotsoria). The Grand Chamber, however, didn’t feel like opening the floodgates and decided to overturn the Chamber judgment, severely limiting the scope of the State’s substantive obligations in this area. Continue reading

Oliari, Orlandi and Homophobic Dissenting Opinions: The Strasbourg Approach to the recognition of same-sex marriages

By Claire Poppelwell-Scevak, PhD FWO Fellow, Gent University

From first glance, the decision of Orlandi and Others v Italy on 14 December 2017, may appear as a step in the direction of same-sex couples being afforded the protection of Article 12 ECHR – the right to marry. However, when one digs a little deeper into this case, there is only dismay that the Strasbourg Court has continued to reinforce its ‘same same but different’ interpretation of the Convention instead of being at the forefront of this struggle for equality. Continue reading