Zhdanov and others v. Russia: on missed opportunities and an offensive applicant

On 16 July, the Court delivered its judgment in the case of Zhdanov and others v. Russia. The case concerns the refusal by the Russian authorities to register two LGBT rights organisations because they were considered extremist organisations on account of the allegedly immoral character of their activities. In this judgment, the Court found a violation of Article 6 § 1 (access to court) and of Article 11 (freedom of assembly), alone and in conjunction with Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination). This blog post is only concerned with the Article 11 and 14 aspects of the case. After setting out the facts, I will highlight some of the missed opportunities in the Court’s judgment from the perspective of the third party intervention we, as the Human Rights Centre of Ghent University, submitted in this case (in particular as far as the assessment of the legitimate aim of the interference is concerned). In addition, I will discuss a quite peculiar aspect of the case: the decision to declare the part of the complaint lodged by LGBT activist Nikolay Alekseyev inadmissible as an abuse of the right of application because of offensive statements he made about the Court and its judges on social media. In line with the (partly) dissenting judges, I will argue that this is problematic from the viewpoint of both freedom of expression and access to the Court. Continue reading

The mountain gave birth to a mouse: the first Advisory Opinion under Protocol No. 16

On 10 April, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Right adopted its first Advisory Opinion under the new Protocol No. 16 to the ECHR, which entered into force on 1 August last year. This Protocol, which has so far been ratified by twelve States, allows the “highest domestic courts” to request the European Court to give an Advisory Opinion on “questions of principle relating to the interpretation or application of the rights and freedoms defined in the Convention or the protocols thereto”. The objective of the Protocol is to “further enhance the interaction between the Court and national authorities and thereby reinforce implementation of the Convention, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity.”

In this blog post, I will briefly discuss the content of this Advisory Opinion “concerning the recognition in domestic law of a legal parent-child relationship between a child born through a gestational surrogacy arrangement abroad and the intended mother”, before turning to the question as to what lessons can more broadly be drawn from it regarding the kinds of policy choices the Court has to make when applying the Protocol 16 mechanism. Continue reading

Murtazaliyeva v. Russia: on the examination of witnesses and the “corrosive expansion” of the overall fairness test

On 18 December, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights delivered its judgment in the case of Murtazaliyeva v. Russia, finding no violation of the right to a fair trial in a case concerning the conviction of a Chechen woman for terrorist offences.  The most significant aspect of the judgment concerns the applicant’s complaint that the domestic courts’ refusal to call two defence witnesses violated Article 6 § 1 and § 3 (d) of the Convention.[1] As the Strasbourg case law was underdeveloped in this area, this case provided an important opportunity for the Court to clarify Convention standards.  Unfortunately, in doing so, the Grand Chamber yet again expanded the scope of the “overall fairness of the proceedings” test under Article 6 § 1, which now also serves as the final benchmark in this area. In this blog post, it will be argued that the increasing recourse by the Court to this test risks depriving defendants of meaningful procedural protection. Continue reading

New publication on the history of the ECHR in Belgium

I’m happy to announce the publication of my article “‘Strasbourg was something new, it was an adventure’ – A history of the Belgian cases before the European Court of Human Rights in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s” in the December edition of the Legal History Review. This article is the product of a research project, funded by the Research Foundation Flanders (FWO), I undertook on the history of the European Convention on Human Rights in Belgium. It is to a large extent based on oral history accounts of actors involved in Strasbourg litigation during the period under consideration. This is the abstract:

In recent years, a burgeoning literature has focused on the history of human rights in general and the history of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) in particular. In order to understand how the ECHR gradually managed to gain authority in diverse national settings, it is necessary to complement transnational historical perspectives with studies of national reception histories. The present article approaches the history of the ECHR in Belgium by focusing on the history of the Belgian cases in Strasbourg, which have played an important role in contributing to the ‘discovery’ of the ECHR in the Belgian legal system. On the basis of interviews with actors involved in the early cases against Belgium, it was possible to determine their position in the Belgian legal landscape as well as their motivations and aspirations in going to Strasbourg. Moreover, these interviews allowed gaining insight into the circumstances out of which litigation against Belgium arose.

 

Human Rights Centre submits a third party intervention in “Conchita Wurst case”

The Human Rights Centre of Ghent University[1] has recently submitted a third party intervention in the case of Minasyan and Others v. Armenia, which raises important issues concerning the protection of LGBTIQ+ persons against hate speech. In our third party intervention, we invite the Court to clarify Convention standards regarding the positive obligation for the State to combat hate speech based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. Before summarizing the main arguments developed in our third party intervention, I will first provide a brief overview of the facts of the case. Continue reading

On sledgehammers and nutcrackers: recent developments in the Court’s less restrictive means doctrine

By Laurens Lavrysen, postdoctoral researcher at the Human Rights Centre of Ghent University (Belgium)

A number of years ago, Eva Brems and I wrote an article “‘Don’t Use a Sledgehammer to Crack a Nut’: Less Restrictive Means in the Case Law of the European Court of Human Rights”. Using a sledgehammer to crack a nut is a quintessential example of a disproportionate action given the fact that an obvious less restrictive means (LRM) to do so is available in the form of a nutcracker. Similarly, the European Court of Human Rights has occasionally resorted to some kind of LRM analysis to determine the proportionality of a human rights restriction.

In our article, we mapped the Court’s LRM case law up to 2013. At that time, something was moving in this area. In 2012, in the judgments of Mouvement Raëlien Suisse v. Switzerland and Nada v. Switzerland, the Grand Chamber had endorsed in general terms some version of the LRM test. Continue reading

Seminar “Positive obligations under the ECHR and the Criminal Law: towards a Coercive Human Rights Law?”

Dear readers,

Together with Dr. Natasa Mavronicola (University of Birmingham), I’m co-organizing an expert seminar on “Positive obligations under the ECHR and the Criminal Law: towards a Coercive Human Rights Law?”, which will take place in Ghent on 25 May 2018.

The European Court of Human Rights increasingly requires States to protect ECHR rights by recourse to the criminal law. On the one hand, States now have to criminalize certain human rights violations, such as human trafficking, torture and rape. On the other hand, States may be under an obligation to prosecute offenders and to impose criminal sanctions. The seminar provides an excellent opportunity for an in-depth discussion on the important legal questions raised by this evolution, which go to the heart of the purpose and function of human rights law.

You can find the programme of the seminar here. The seminar is a closed event for a limited number of participants. If you have a strong research interest in the topic, you can ask the organisers to attend the seminar (laurens.lavrysen@ugent.be and n.mavronicola@bham.ac.uk).