Gender-based violence triggers differential treatment in housing benefit case

By Katarina Frostell, Project Manager and PhD Candidate, Institute for Human Rights, Åbo Akademi University, Finland

On 24 October 2019, the European Court of Human Rights delivered its judgment in J.D. and A. v. the United Kingdom, in the so-called bedroom tax case. In its judgment, the Court applied a discrimination analysis on the reduction of housing benefits involving two single mothers, whose housing benefits were reduced following a change in the national housing regulations. The applicants argued that they should be treated differently than the mainstream recipients of the benefit due to their special circumstances linked to disability and gender-based violence. In the second case involving gender discrimination, the Court found with five votes to two, a violation of Article 14 in conjunction with Article 1 of Protocol 1 on the right to property. The Court dismissed the claims of discrimination on the grounds of disability in the first case. Two judges submitted a partly dissenting opinion. Continue reading

Stuck in the middle with Papageorgiou: Missed or new opportunities?

Effie Fokas is a political scientist and a Senior Research Fellow at the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy, Research Associate of the London School of Economics Hellenic Observatory, and member of the Henry Luce/Leadership 100 project on Orthodoxy and Human Rights (Orthodox Christian Studies Center, Fordham University). She was also Principal Investigator of the ERC-funded Grassrootsmobilise Research Programme, which was one of three interveners in the Papageorgiou case.

Introduction

On 31 October 2019, the European Court of Human Rights delivered its judgement on the case of Papageorgiou and Others v. Greece, thus adding to its rich case law to do with religious education. Papageorgiou concerns the claim of Greek parents and students that the Greek mandatory religious education and its exemption process violate their Art.2, Protocol 1 right to education in accordance with their own religious or philosophical convictions. The exemption right was limited only to students who are not Orthodox and who submit a formal ‘solemn declaration’ to this effect to their school. On this basis both families in the case also claim violation of their Article 8 right to respect for private life, their Article 9 right to freedom of religion, and the Article 14 prohibition of discrimination.

Continue reading

Pryanishnikov v. Russia: the production and distribution of erotic and pornographic material under Article 10 of the ECHR

Argyro Chatzinikolaou is a doctoral researcher and a member of the Law & Technology research group and the Human Rights Centre at Ghent University. She is currently working on the research project “Minors and online sexual acts: a study of legal qualifications and regulatory approaches from a children’s rights perspective”.

In Pryanishnikov v Russia, a case concerning the authorities’ refusal to grant the applicant a film reproduction license, the European Court of Human Rights (hereinafter ECtHR or Court) found a violation of the right to freedom of expression, as the only reason advanced by the domestic courts for the refusal of the relevant license had been based on mere suspicions rather than findings of fact. Moreover, the Court concluded that the authorities had failed to strike a fair balance between the right to freedom of expression and the need to protect public morals and the rights of others. Beyond the judgment itself and the finding of a violation of Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights (hereinafter ECHR), what merits attention is the elaborate concurring opinion delivered by Judge Pinto de Albuquerque on the regulation of pornography and the justification of restrictions of such material at a European and national level. Continue reading

Strasbourg Court’s new non-contentious phase – a tax on lawlessness?

Jessica Gavron, Legal, Director, European Human Rights Advocacy Centre, London

It is widely recognised that the European Court of Human Rights is under huge pressure to reduce its caseload, currently standing at almost 60,000 cases. To this end, the Court has been increasing the number of cases resolved by friendly settlements and unilateral declarations and in January this year started trialling a new compulsory 12 week non-contentious phase to its procedure. The intention behind this new phase is the early, expeditious and domestic resolution of cases, involving greater ‘burden sharing’ of the caseload with Contracting States. The friendly settlement of cases could justifiably lead to the resolution of many pending cases and has the potential benefit, with proper oversight, of allowing for more specific remedies than may be forthcoming from a final judgment. However, the implementation and conduct so far of this new phase has given human rights lawyers and applicants cause for serious concern. Continue reading

Denying journalist access to asylum-seeker ‘reception centre’ in Hungary violated Article 10 ECHR

By Dirk Voorhoof and Ronan Ó Fathaigh

In Szurovecz v. Hungary, the European Court of Human Rights has held that a refusal to grant a journalist access to an asylum-seeker ‘reception centre’ in Hungary violated his right to freedom of expression under Article 10 ECHR. The ECtHR emphasised that newsgathering, including ‘first-hand’ observation by a journalist reporting on a matter of significant public interest, is an essential part of journalistic research and press freedom. The ECtHR found that the public interest in reporting from certain locations is especially relevant where the authorities’ handling of vulnerable groups is at stake, and the presence of media is a guarantee that the authorities can be held to account for their conduct. Continue reading

Ilașcu: from contested precedent to well-established case-law

By Linda Hamid, Research Fellow at the Leuven Centre for Global Governance Studies – Institute for International Law, KU Leuven

On 15 October 2019, the European Court of Human Rights delivered a judgment in the case of Grama and Dîrul v. The Republic of Moldova and Russia, whereby it found a violation of Art. 1, Protocol No. 1 and Art. 13 to the/of the Convention by the Russian Federation only. More specifically, the Court held that the seizure of the applicants’ cars and the imposition of fines on them by the authorities of the ‘Moldavian Republic of Transdniestria’ (the MRT or Transdniestria) and the lack of an effective remedy for the applicants to assert their rights in the face of the actions of the MRT constituted a breach of said Convention provisions. Transdniestria is a breakaway region in Moldova that declared independence in 1991 but remains unrecognized by the international community. Continue reading

A new chapter on the deportation of ill persons and Article 3 ECHR: the European Court of Human Rights judgment in Savran v. Denmark

By Dr. Mark Klaassen, Institute of Immigration Law, Leiden University

On 1 October 2019, in the Savran judgment the European Court of Human Rights (hereinafter: ‘the Court’) has applied the Paposhvili-test in cases involving the expulsion of migrants who fear to be the victim of a violation of Article 3 ECHR because a medical treatment is not available in the country of origin. See, for an analysis of the Paposhvili ruling, the blog post of Lourdes Peroni on this blog. The case involves the deportation of a Turkish man with a severe psychiatric condition from Denmark to Turkey. In this contribution, I will first briefly sketch the development of the case law of the Court in Article 3 ECHR cases involving medical treatment. After that, I will outline the facts of the present case and the ruling of the Court. In my analysis of the ruling I will question the feasibility of the Court’s position that the host state is required to obtain assurances from the country of origin that medical treatment is available for a particular patient. I will argue that in case serious doubts persist as to whether the required medical treatment is available and accessible, the returning state should simply refrain from deportation. My final argument is that the Court should have addressed the issue of the right to respect for private and family life under Article 8 ECHR, as I believe it would be helpful to receive more guidance in deportation cases of convicts who committed their crimes in a situation that they cannot (fully) be held accountable because of a psychiatric condition. Continue reading

ECtHR engages in dangerous “triple pirouette” to find criminal prosecution for media coverage of PKK statements did not violate Article 10

By Ronan Ó Fathaigh and Dirk Voorhoof

The European Court’s Second Section recently found that criminal proceedings against the owner and the editor of a newspaper for having published statements by the leader of a terrorist organisation were justified and did not violate the right to freedom of expression. The Court in Gürbüz and Bayar v. Turkey found that the newspaper’s article with statements by the leader of the PKK, Abdullah Öcalan, contained and implied a threat of resumption of violence. In its approach and finding no violation of freedom of expression under Article 10 ECHR, the Court itself made an assessment of the context and content of the article at issue, as the Turkish courts had restricted themselves to the finding of the illegal character of reproducing the statements of the PKK-leader as such, without further evaluating the necessity of the interference in a democratic society. Continue reading

Child protection and child-centrism – the Grand Chamber case of Strand Lobben and others v. Norway 2019

By Prof. Marit Skivenes, Centre for Research on Discretion and Paternalism (University of Bergen)

The backdrop for the Grand Chamber case, is the dissenting Chamber judgment of 2017 – Strand Lobben vs. Norway  – about a boy that had been adopted from foster care. Here, the Chamber concluded it had not been a violation of the mother´s right to respect for family life under Article 8 due to the Chamber’s strong emphasis on the child’s best interest and his de facto family situation, as well as his need for permanency. The dissenting minority of three judges argued for the importance of legal (de jure) bonds and the negative effects of cutting biological ties. In the Grand Chamber judgment, a majority of 13 judges concluded that Norway had violated the applicants’ right to family life on procedural grounds – not on the merits of adoption from care. By this, the Court bypassed a discussion on the tensions and challenges children´s strong position as right bearers implies for the traditional relationships between family and the state.

Although, the Grand Chamber judgement is a disappointment for some and a relief for others, I believe that from a child´s rights perspective there are three important messages that should be addressed: Continue reading

The protection of foster parents right to family and the best interests of the child

By Kartica van de Zon, assistant professor of Family Law, Leiden Law School, the Child Law Department

On 9 April 2019, the ECtHR delivered its judgement in the case V.D and others v Russia. The case concerned a seriously disabled boy who had been in the care of his foster mother for nine years. Typically in cases on long term foster care and adoption, parents complain about their loss of parental authority, or the fact that the child has not returned to their care. In this case, however, it was the foster mother who complained that the child did return to the care of his biological parents. This poses the Strasbourg Court with a difficult dilemma. On the one hand, the Court has often stated that the reunification of children and their parents is the primary goal of child protection measures. On the other hand, the family life between children and their foster parents also deserves protection under Article 8 of the Convention. Granting foster parents a right not to be separated from foster children might come in conflict with the primary goal of child protection measures. Thus how far does the protection of foster parents right to family life reach? Continue reading

Another turn of the screw – further restrictions for Hungarian applications to the ECtHR

This blogpost was written by Andras Kadar, attorney at law, Co-chair of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee

Two recent posts on this blog (one on the Mendrei case and one on the Szalontay decision) by Dániel A Karsai have described how the European Court of Human Rights (Court) – largely disregarding the Hungarian legal-political context and its own jurisprudence on the burden of proof concerning the effectiveness of remedies – has limited potential applicants’ access to the Strasbourg protection mechanism by declaring the Hungarian constitutional complaint an effective domestic remedy to be exhausted as a strong main rule.

With the inadmissibility decision handed down concerning application no. 22172/14, the Court has gone one step further on this road, mounting a procedural obstacle to seeking protection in Strasbourg that certain applicants coming from less privileged groups of society may not be able to overcome.  Continue reading

Burmych v. Ukraine two years later: What about restoral?

By Lize R. Glas, Assistant Professor of European law, Radboud University, the Netherlands

When the Court took the unprecedented decision to strike 12,143 repetitive cases out of its list in  Burmych and Others v. Ukraine on 12 October 2017, it added that it may reassess the situation within two years and restore the cases. As this date is approaching, this blog addresses the question whether the Court will and should restore these cases. For this purpose, I will outline what has happened in the execution process since Burmych, explain what restoration involves and discuss whether the principled and pragmatic reasons for striking out Burmych still apply and convince. This blog begins with a brief summary of the judgment and the events leading up to it. Continue reading

The importance of time in child protection decisions; a commentary on Haddad v Spain

By Simona Florescu PhD fellow, Leiden Law School, the Child Law Department

On 18 June 2019 the European Court of Human Rights found a violation of Article 8 of the Convention in the case of Haddad v Spain. The main reason was that the Spanish authorities did not discharge of their positive obligations to facilitate reunification between the applicant and his daughter (who had been placed in care). The applicant was the child’s father who at the time of placement was suspected of domestic violence against his children and their mother. About one year and four months had elapsed by the time the applicant was legally able to contact his children. During this time, his youngest child (one year and a half old at the time) had been living with foster parents and the authorities were envisaging her adoption.

In addition to finding a violation, the Court called upon the Spanish authorities to re-examine the situation in light of the judgment. Thus, arguably the Spanish authorities are to endeavor to secure the applicant’s reunification with his daughter. Continue reading

Romeo Castaño: “meticulously elaborated interpretations” for the sake of prosecution

By Mattia Pinto, PhD Candidate at the London School of Economics, Department of Law

 On 9 July 2019, the Second Section of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR or the Court) delivered its judgement in Romeo Castaño v. Belgium, concerning Belgium’s failure to execute multiple European Arrest Warrants (EAWs) issued by Spanish authorities in relation to a suspected ETA terrorist. Extradition cases involving the ECtHR usually concern complaints of ill-treatment likely to occur if an individual is extradited to a country where human rights appear not adequately protected (see, e.g., Soering, Trabelsi, Othman (Abu Qatada) and Pirozzi). In the case here at issue, the situation is reversed: the applicants complained that Belgian authorities’ refusal to surrender would amount to a breach of their right to an effective investigation into their father’s murder. The Second Section accepted this complaint and ruled unanimously that Belgium had breached its procedural obligation to cooperate under Article 2 ECHR. It is the first time the Court has found a violation of the Convention because a State refuses to surrender an individual sought by an extradition request. The decision is interesting but also controversial in its attempt to engage with multiple and complex issues, involving the relation between the ECHR and EU law, positive obligations to prosecute human rights violations and the principle of non-refoulement in EAW requests. In my opinion, the Court tries but eventually fails to properly deal with these issues. Continue reading

Stoian v. Romania: the Court’s drift on disability rights intensifies

By Constantin Cojocariu

On 25 June 2019, the Court released an eagerly awaited judgment in the case of Stoian v. Romania, brought by a disabled child and his mother, who complained about the denial of the right to education. The Court, ruling as a Committee, rejected all claims, brutally ending an unprecedented litigation campaign on inclusive education that lasted a decade. While the judgment generated outcry among disability rights activists worldwide, it also displayed warning signs about procedural shortcuts taken by the Court and its approach to vulnerable applicants more widely. The judgment’s bottom line, that the fundamental rights of persons of disabilities are primarily a matter of resources that disqualifies them from protection under the Convention, is relatively unsurprising, though depressing and not befitting of a human rights court. What is more interesting is how the Court reached this verdict, by downgrading the case to the three-judge Committee level, by distorting the facts, by adopting the Government’s views wholesale and by refusing to apply meaningful scrutiny. In that sense, to some extent, what is lacking from the official record is more interesting than what was included. This is why an admittedly partisan account of the judgment such as the present one – I acted as the applicants’ co-counsel – may prove interesting to the readers of the Strasbourg Observers blog. Continue reading

Grand Chamber limits the scope of Article 3 for non-state ill-treatment

By Nicole Bürli, Human Rights Advisor of the World Organisation against Torture (OMCT)[1]

On 25 June 2019, coincidently the eve of the international day in support of victims of torture, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights limited the scope of Article 3 ECHR. In the case of Nicolae Virgiliu Tănase v. Romania, the Court found that the investigations into a serious traffic accident were compatible with Articles 2, 8 and 6 ECHR and that Article 3 ECHR was not applicable. The latter finding is a change of jurisprudence as the Court stated that Article 3 (procedural limb) ECHR is only applicable to non-state ill-treatment if inflicted intentionally. This is problematic for a number of reasons and the subject of this post. Continue reading

Vladimir Ushakov V. Russia – The 1980 Hague Convention, the child’s best interests and gender biases

By Tine Van Hof, PhD researcher at the University of Antwerp

 On the 18th of June 2019, the European Court of Human Rights gave judgment in the case of Vladimir Ushakov v. Russia (application no. 15122/17). The Court held by six votes to one that there has been a violation of the applicant’s right to family life under Article 8 ECHR. The case concerns Mr Ushakov who sought the return of his daughter V. to Finland after the mother I.K. took her to Russia. The Russian court refused to order the return of the child and based this decision on Article 13(1)(b) of the Hague Convention on Child Abduction. The Court carefully applies the general principles that have emerged in its previous case law on international child abduction. In that respect, the case is not very noteworthy. However, the dissenting opinion of Judge Dedov, in which he is critical of the Hague Convention, invites for discussion. This post will in particular respond to what Judge Dedov has defined as “deficiencies” of the Hague Convention. Continue reading

Glaisen v. Switzerland : the Court still gives up on reasonable accommodation

By Morgane Ventura – PhD researcher at the Geneva University (UNIGE)

On 18 July 2019, the European Court of Human Rights published its inadmissibility decision in the case of Glaisen v. Switzerland, regarding the access of a disabled person to a cinema. Glaisen complained that the cinema company denied him the access to watch a movie that was projected in this one and only cinema in Geneva. Relying on its former case law the Court considers that access to a cinema is not a right and should not be imposed on private parties if there is not any domestic law forcing them to. Moreover, the Court relies on the Swiss authorities’ argumentation according to which the facts do not disclose any discrimination. In my opinion, the Court missed an opportunity to recognize a structural discrimination and to consolidate its case law about substantive equality by granting the right to have a reasonable accommodation. I first examine the decision of the Court and then link it to the notion of structural discrimination. I conclude my assessment with the notion of reasonable accommodation and its promises for the European human rights’ protection system, even though the Court misses a lot of opportunities to concretise it. Continue reading

A worrisome reasoning by the Strasbourg Court in a domestic violence case: Kurt v. Austria

By Zane Ratniece

On 4 July 2019, a Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (‘Court’) delivered a judgment in Kurt v. Austria. The case concerned a disturbing situation of domestic violence, which escalated over time and ended with the killing of the applicant’s son by her violent husband. (para. 3) The Chamber found that the Austrian authorities had not breached their obligation under Article 2 (right to life) of the European Convention on Human Rights (‘Convention’) to protect the boy’s life from the criminal acts of his father. (para. 80)

This contribution opines that the reasoning by which the Chamber arrived at those conclusions is worrisome for its silence on the particular context of domestic violence and the vulnerability of the victims. Such approach does not sit well with more recent Court’s case-law which expressly acknowledges the particular context of domestic violence. Hence, Kurt risks questioning the progress made in the Court’s case-law and creating uncertainty as regards the standards to be followed in dealing with the widespread and complex phenomenon of domestic violence, requiring active State involvement. Continue reading

Brzeziński v. Poland: Fine over ‘false’ information during election campaign violated Article 10

By Ronan Ó Fathaigh

On 25 July 2019, the European Court of Human Rights delivered an important judgment in Brzeziński v. Poland, concerning a provision in Poland’s election law which allows a court, within 24 hours, to consider whether ‘untrue information’ has been published, and to issue an order prohibiting its further distribution. The European Court in Brzeziński unanimously held that a fine issued under the provision violated the right to freedom of expression, under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Continue reading

Prohibiting Collective Expulsion in Melilla: What Should We Expect from the Upcoming Grand Chamber Decision?

Raoul Wieland studies law and social work at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. He is undertaking a work placement with Amnesty International’s Strategic Litigation Unit at the International Secretariat in London.

On 3 October 2017, the European Court of Human Rights released its judgment in the important case of N.D. and N.T. v Spain. Considering the upcoming Grand Chamber decision, it is worth re-visiting some of the important legal safeguards at issue in the Chamber judgment and as outlined by the third-party interventions brought by Amnesty International and colleagues and the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights. Continue reading

Tasev v North- Macedonia: (blurry) dimensions and boundaries of the right to free self-identification

By Kristin Henrard, Professor of Fundamental Rights, Erasmus Law School, Rotterdam

On 16 May 2019 the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR or the Court) delivered its judgement in Tasev v North Macedonia regarding the refusal of the authorities to change the ethnic affiliation of a judge in the electoral roll of judges.

The Court concludes to a violation of Article 8 ECHR because the interference would not have a basis in national law. There is indeed a problem with the foreseeability of the application of the invoked national law. However, the case particularly invites closer analysis of the right to free self-identification as protected by article 8 ECHR, more particularly the two dimensions of this right that can be distinguished (free self-identification pure, and free self-identification through the exercise of rights), their respective boundaries and the way in which these two dimensions interrelate.

It is argued that the Court fails to fully grasp the two dimensions of the right to free self-identification (and their interrelation), resulting in the mistaken identification of an interference with article 8 ECHR. Continue reading

A Bumpy Road to Strasbourg: Ups and Downs of the Ukrainian National Selection Process

By Dr. Kanstantsin Dzehtsiarou (University of Liverpool)

I have already written two blog posts on the issue of election of judges of the European Court of Human Rights in Ukraine here and here. To sum up, the election of the new Ukrainian judge meant to take place in December 2018, but the Ukrainian authorities have only opened the national completion in March 2019 which meant that the whole process is way behind the schedule. I was quite critical of the then proposed design of the competition as it did not comply with the recommendations of the Parliamentary Assembly and the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. Since then the Ukrainian authorities have completely reloaded this competition, changed the rules of the game and reached the pinnacle of the national selection – interviews of the candidates. Recent presidential elections and changes in personnel in presidential administration were perhaps the key reasons why the previous competition was stopped and a completely new procedure was designed. Apart from that, academic criticism and litigation initiated by leading Ukrainian lawyers helped to bury the old competition. The new procedure was promising but its practical application puts the legitimacy and fairness of the whole process in some doubt. Continue reading

Parental Child Abduction is back on the agenda of the European Court of Human Rights

Simona Florescu PhD fellow, Leiden Law School, the Child Law Department

Parental child abduction has been a frequent occurrence for the European Court of Human Rights with the case of O.C.I. and others v Romania being the latest in a series of more than 70 applications. The Court decided these cases in several formations, ranging from the Grand Chamber, to the Chamber and most recently to the Committee of three judges. These formations are indicative of the importance the Court attaches to the issues raised by parental child abduction cases. On the basis of O.C.I. and Others v Romania, we could thus infer that child abduction has become a matter of well-established case law which does not require a too detailed analysis.[1] This may well be the perspective of the ECtHR, however, child abduction is anything but well-established case law[2] and it is precisely in these cross border cases that the Court can and should make a significant contribution in standard setting.

It is for this reason that I have decided to write this blog post. I argue that the Court – and human rights practitioners in general – need to be alert of the difficulties that cross border cases raise for individuals. In these cases, domestic courts of one country are expected to defer the analysis of the merits of the case to the domestic courts of the other country. In the midst of such deferral, and because there is no supranational supervision (other than that of the ECtHR), there is a risk of lower or no protection for human rights. Therefore, dispensing with this case in a Committee of three judges does not do justice to the many complexities raised by child abduction cases. I argue that the case of O.C.I. and others v Romania is one example where, in my opinion, there is more at stake than what the Court makes of it. Continue reading

A and B. v. Croatia and the concurring opinion of Judge Wojtyczek: the procedural status of the ‘disappearing party’

Claire Loven – PhD researcher at the Montaigne Centre for Rule of Law and Administration of Justice (Utrecht University)

On 20 June 2019 the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR or Court) delivered a judgment in A and B. v. Croatia on the investigation of allegations of child sexual abuse. A, the mother of B, accused B’s father of sexually abusing the four-year-old B. After the Croatian State Attorney’s Office decided against prosecuting the father, finding that it could not conclude that C had committed any prosecutable offence, A and B lodged a complaint before the Court. They complained about the failure of the Croatian authorities to provide a proper response to allegations of child sexual abuse. By four votes to three the Court found that there had been no violation of the procedural aspects of Article 3 (prohibition of torture) and Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life). The sharp division within the Chamber is not only reflected in the bare majority vote on the outcome, but also in the fact that, together, the concurring and dissenting opinions are just as long as the Court’s judgment. The joint concurring opinion by Judges Koskelo, Eicke and Ilievski and the joint dissenting opinion by Judges Sicilianos, Turković and Pejchal focus on the scope of the case, whilst Judge Wojtyczek raises the issue of the father not having a role in the Court’s proceedings. In this blogpost, I leave the issues raised by Koskelo et al. and Sicilianos et al. for other commentators, and focus on the particular issues raised by Wojtyczek. Continue reading

A Court Divided: discord and disagreement in Rola v. Slovenia

This post was written by Bas van Bockel, Senior Lecturer of EU law, at Utrecht University.

In a judgment delivered on June 4 by the 4th Chamber of the ECtHR, no less than 3 separate opinions – both partly dissenting and partly concurring – were delivered by 5 of the 7 judges sitting on the case. The facts of the case appear unremarkable, making it all the more surprising that the judges ostensibly found it so difficult to reach agreement between them. What is particularly concerning is that the Court appears to disagree fundamentally on one of the most well-established doctrines from its own case law, the Engel doctrine. The result is puzzling, and raises the question of how the national judiciary can be persuaded to follow the case law of the ECtHR if the Court itself appears so divided on its proper interpretation and implications. Continue reading

Russia left, threatened and won: Its return to the Assembly without sanctions

By Lize R. Glas, Assistant Professor of European law, Radboud University, the Netherlands

The background story: The Assembly takes action

As has been recounted on this blog and on other blogs already (see here and here as well), the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Assembly) and Russia have been in a row ever since the Assembly suspended the voting rights and some other rights of the Russian delegation in April 2014 (see also here). The Assembly took this measure because of, inter alia, Russia’s annexation of Crimea. In response, Russia has not submitted the credentials of its delegation since 2016. Moreover, Russia suspended its payment to the Council of Europe.

These events have not only led to serious financial consequences for the Organisation (by the end of 2019, Russia will have a debt of 90 million euros), but have also led Russia to question the binding nature of the European Court of Human Rights’ (Court) judgments, considering that it has not participated in the election of most of the Court’s current judges. To make things even worse, Russia has threatened to leave the Council of Europe if it would not be permitted to participate in the election of the new Secretary General during the June 2019 session (see also here). Russia has made its return to the Assembly conditional on the Assembly removing from its Rules of Procedure the provisions concerning the challenging of credentials and the imposition of sanctions. As a result of these events, the Council of Europe is now in a ‘deep political and financial crisis’. Continue reading

G.K. v. Belgium: Post-electoral Disputes of a Political Nature Once Again in the Spotlight

By Julian Clarenne (PhD researcher at the Centre interdisciplinaire de recherches en droit constitutionnel et administratif, Université Saint-Louis Bruxelles)

On 21 May 2019, the European Court of Human Rights delivered an awaited judgment in G. K. v. Belgium on the competence of elected assemblies in post-electoral disputes. It found that the Belgian State had violated Article 3 of Additional Protocol No. 1 to the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, concerning the right to free elections. The reason was that one of its parliamentary assemblies (the Senate) did not offer, at least in the circumstances of the case, sufficient procedural guarantees against arbitrariness in the context of reviewing the validity of the resignation of one of its members. In that judgment, the Court also ordered Belgium to pay the applicant EUR 5,000 by way of just satisfaction for compensation in respect of the non-pecuniary damage, in addition to EUR 30 000 in costs and expenses. While this judgment is in line with the Court’s previous case-law on the right to free elections, it misses the opportunity to increases the pressure on national legal systems which, like Belgium, still confer the competence of post-electoral disputes to parliamentary assemblies. It is nevertheless unsurprising that the Court preferred to just settle the dispute at stake without drawing general conclusions, as it is in the line with its inclination to “judicial minimalism”. Continue reading

How many judgments does one need to enforce a judgment? The first ever infringement proceedings at the European Court of Human Rights.

By Kanstantsin Dzehtsiarou (University of Liverpool)

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) delivered its first ever judgment in an infringement procedure request (under Article 46-4 ECHR) in the case of Mammadov v Azerbaijan. The applicant in this case was an opposition leader from Azerbaijan who was put in prison contrary to Articles 5-1c and 18 ECHR. The Court confirmed that acquittal of the applicant was the only individual measure capable to remedy this violation. In so doing, the Court has effectively made the only decision that was politically plausible, namely it agreed with the Committee of Ministers that the judgment in the first Mammadov case was not executed properly. I have argued that this was the only possible solution in my previous blog post on the issue. The Court made it clear that the Committee of Ministers has quite broad competencies in interpreting the judgments of the ECtHR. Başak Çalı has written a good blog post analysing the substance of this decision. So, to avoid repetition I am going to focus on a few points which I found important not only for this judgment in particular but also for the future of the procedure pursuant to Article 46-4 ECHR if the Committee of Ministers ever requests a new judgment. Continue reading

Extremist view on subsidiarity and on exhaustion of domestic remedies? Criticism of the decision Szalontay v. Hungary

By Dr. Dániel A. Karsai, attorney at law, Dániel Karsai Law Firm

The Commissioner of Human Rights of the Council of Europe recently issued a report following her visit to Hungary where she made the following rather astonishing statement: “Human rights violations in Hungary have a negative effect on the whole protection system and the rule of law. They must be addressed as a matter of urgency”. The Commissioner voiced serious concerns over the impartiality of the judiciary (including the Hungarian Constitutional Court – hereinafter: CC), rights of migrants, gender equality and the systemic harassment of civil society.

This report gives topicality to the present blogpost which is the continuation of the post written about the Mendrei v. Hungary admissibility decision. In Mendrei, the Court declared one of the three types of the Hungarian constitutional complaint – the actio popularis – an effective remedy to be exhausted before turning to Strasbourg. In my Mendrei post I raised serious concerns about the Court’s new approach on the exhaustion of domestic remedies, in particular, the shift of the burden of proof from the Government to the applicants and that the Court completely disregards the legal and factual context in which the CC operates. To my biggest regret, the Court followed the course it started in Mendrei and in the recently adopted Szalontay v. Hungary admissibility decision finished the job: it fully declared the Hungarian constitutional complaints an effective remedy to be exhausted before turning to the ECHR. In the present post, I will argue that the Court’s view on domestic remedies is not just simply erroneous and disconnected from the Hungarian realities but seriously endangers the effective protection of human rights by establishing rather unforeseeable standards for the applicants that will be almost impossible to meet.

Continue reading

Kablis v. Russia: prior restraint of online campaigning for a peaceful, but unauthorised demonstration violated Article 10 ECHR

This blogpost was written by Ronan Ó Fathaigh and Dirk Voorhoof

On 30 April 2019, in Kablis v. Russia, the European Court’s Third Section unanimously found that the blocking by Russian authorities of an activist’s social networking account and entries on his blog had breached his right to freedom of expression under Article 10 ECHR. The applicant, Grigoriy Kablis, had called for participation in a ‘people’s assembly’ at a square in Syktyvkar, the capital of the Komi Republic. However, the local authorities had already refused Kablis’ request to organise a public event at that venue, and had proposed another specially designated location for holding such public events. Apart from finding the blocking orders a breach of Article 10 ECtHR, the ECtHR also found a violation of Kablis’ right to freedom of peaceful assembly as guaranteed by Article 11 ECHR and of this right to an effective remedy under Article 13 ECHR. This blog concentrates on the blocking measures as a form of prior restraint, banning ‘illegal material’ from the Internet.

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The discovery in flagrante delicto, the Kafkaesque fate of a Supreme judge and the Turkish Constitutional Court: The Alparslan Altan case in Strasbourg

By Emre Turkut, PhD researcher at Ghent University

On 16 April 2019, the Second Section Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (the ECtHR) delivered a long-awaited decision in the case of Alparslan Altan v. Turkey, an application lodged by a former judge serving on the Turkish Constitutional Court (TCC) to challenge his arbitrary placement in pre-trial detention in the aftermath of the 15 July 2016 attempted coup. The application was pending in Strasbourg since 16 January 2017. In its judgment, the ECtHR found that the applicant’s initial pre-trial detention was not lawful within the meaning of Article 5/1 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and was not based on reasonable suspicion that he had committed an offence under Article 5/1 (c) ECHR. Continue reading

Election of the ECtHR Judge in Ukraine: from bad to worse

By Kanstantsin Dzehtsiarou (University of Liverpool)

As I have predicted in my previous blog post on this issue, the campaign for election of a judge in Ukraine has already proved to be a good case study illustrating the challenges that the Council of Europe institutions have to confront. These challenges now mainly result from poor national practices which might lead to suboptimal lists of nominees which in turn have to be rejected by the Council of Europe. These rejections always lead to delays in appointment of new judges for the Court. Luckily, the ECHR does not have the rule that the judge whose term is over cannot sit on the bench. Otherwise, these delays could have been effective in sabotaging the work of the Court. In any event, it is already fair to say that the Ukrainian national selection procedure reflects very bad national practices. On 4 March 2019 the president of Ukraine established an ad hoc selection committee; last week (week commencing on 22 April 2019) it announced the competition. The details of these announcements suggest that the Ukrainian authorities aim to limit the possible pool of candidates as much as possible in order to avoid real competition. Continue reading

Suspicionless Stop and Search Powers at the Border and Article 8: Beghal v United Kingdom

By John Ip, University of Auckland Faculty of Law

On 28 February 2019, the First Section Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) delivered its decision in Beghal v United Kingdom, a de facto appeal from a 2015 UK Supreme Court decision concerning the question of whether Schedule 7 to the Terrorism Act 2000 was incompatible with various rights under the European Convention on Human Rights. The ECtHR concluded unanimously that the applicant’s right to respect for private and family life under Article 8 had been infringed. Continue reading

What future for settlements and undertakings in international human rights resolution?

By Nino Jomarjidze and Philip Leach

Resolving problems through settlements and by eliciting undertakings from governments has become a significant feature of the Strasbourg landscape. At the European Court of Human Rights (the Court), the use of friendly settlements (agreed confidentially between the parties) has been on the increase. So too, for ‘unilateral declarations’ (UD) which are utilised by the Court to resolve cases on terms put forward by the government, and which are deemed acceptable by the Court, even in the absence of agreement from the applicant. In 2018, more than 3,000 cases were resolved either by settlement or by UD, a 34% increase from the previous year. Within that figure, the number of priority cases resolved in this way more than doubled in the same period. Indeed, in 2019 the ECtHR is trialling a new non-contentious phase in its proceedings, which means that when a government is notified of a case, the parties will have an initial 12 week friendly settlement phase, followed by a 12 week contentious phase. More than that, the Court registry will itself usually make a friendly settlement proposal setting out suggested terms.

Such alternative forms of dispute resolution have been relatively under-explored and deserve further scrutiny. A common feature of both friendly settlements and UDs is that governments will provide undertakings to take remedial steps, which become binding under international law. Their significant potential is reflected in the fact that such undertakings can go further than the ECtHR itself would go in its judgments. But whose job is it to assess whether an undertaking has been met, and what happens when governments do not comply? The Committee of Ministers (CM) has a supervision role vis-à-vis friendly settlements, but will rarely monitor UDs – only when they are incorporated into a judgment of the Court, rather than a decision. Continue reading

Election of Judges of the European Court of Human Rights: Ukraine, the Beginning

By Kanstantsin Dzehtsiarou (University of Liverpool)

Election of judges is crucially important for the legitimacy, reputation and authoritativeness of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). The Court needs leading academics and practitioners not only to come up with well-drafted and reasoned judgments but also to ensure that these judgments are then embedded into the national legal systems of the Contracting Parties to the Convention. The role of the national judge therefore includes education and dissemination of the core principles and values of the Convention in their home countries. When these principles are presented by a well-respected professional, their weight increases exponentially. In order to choose the best candidates the selection procedure should be clear, transparent and based on merits of the candidates. This post is the first one of a series of posts, spread over the coming months, which will be looking at the selection procedure that commenced last week in Ukraine. In these posts, I will try to use the developments in Ukraine to illustrate the challenges that the Council of Europe and its Member States face in that regard. Continue reading

X v. FYROM: A circumspect compromise on trans* rights?

This post was written by Mariam Gaiparashvili and Sarah Schoentjes, Master students at the Human Rights Legal Clinic, Ghent University

In X v. FYROM, the ECtHR confirmed the Member States’ positive obligation under Article 8 ECHR to establish a clear legal procedure for gender recognition. Disappointingly, however, it refused to examine the applicant’s claim that mandatory sex reassignment surgery as a requirement for gender recognition also violated Article 8. From the dissenting opinion of Judges Pejchal and Wojtyczek, it is clear that this application crystallised core disagreements within the Court on its interpretation methods and its role toward the Member States. Unfortunately, trans* persons bear the brunt of this conflict, as it seems to have led the Court to be very circumspect in this case, denying trans* persons much-needed clarity and protection. Continue reading

H.A. and others v. Greece – restrictive acknowledgement of irregular migrant vulnerability

By Elina Todorov, PhD Candidate, Tampere University (Finland)

On 28. February 2019 the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) delivered a judgement concerning unaccompanied minors in an irregular situation, namely H.A. and others v. Greece.  In H.A. the Court found several violations of the Convention, in particular a partial violation of Article 3 regarding the living conditions of the applicants (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment), a violation of Article 13 (right to an effective remedy, taken together with Article 3) and also violations of Article 5 § 1 and 5 § 4 (right to liberty and security, right to a speedy decision on the lawfulness of a detention measure). The case stands well in line with the Court’s previous case law concerning irregular migration. In H.A., the Court regarded that the authorities’ conduct caused a situation in which the national authorities had not succeeded in protecting the applicants who were unaccompanied foreign minors in an irregular situation. In line with its established case law, the Court recognized that minors – or in other words children – in an irregular situation are to be regarded as a vulnerable group mainly due to the fact that they are children (rather than because they are irregular migrants). However, as will be argued in this blog post, the Court thereby failed to adequately recognize the vulnerability resulting from the applicants’ irregular residence status. Continue reading

Petukhov v. Ukraine No. 2: Life Sentences Incompatible with the Convention, but only in Eastern Europe?

Lewis Graham is a PhD Student at Pembroke College, University of Cambridge.

Life sentences – that is, indefinite detention without any opportunity for release – is a thorny issue, and the involvement of the European Court of Human Rights in this field, particularly in cases concerning the United Kingdom, have recently courted great controversy. After a relatively quiet period, the Court has recently handed down a new judgment on these sentences – the first in two years – this time concerning Ukraine.

Like a number of other European states, Ukraine operates a fairly strict regime when it comes to life sentences. Any prisoner serving such a sentence who seeks release must rely on one of two routes to obtain it: they must prove that they have a serious, life-threatening illness or rely on a presidential clemency mechanism. The applicant in Petukhov v Ukraine (No 2), handed down 12 March 2019, challenged the Convention-compatibility of this scheme, in light of current case-law which suggests that life sentences will breach Article 3 ECHR if they do not include some “real prospect of release” (see e.g. cases against the UK, France, Hungary and many others).

It is well-established that allowing the vacation of a sentence on grounds that the prisoner is suffering from a serious illness is not, in itself, a legitimate mitigation of a sentence. Thus,  the main focus of the case at hand was the clemency route. The Court therefore analysed whether the applicant in this case had at his disposal a real “prospect of release” through the opportunity to obtain presidential clemency. Ultimately, it found that he did not, and found that Ukraine had breached Article 3 as a result. Continue reading

Human Rights Centre and SAR submit a joint third party intervention in cases concerning academic freedom

By Sofia Sideridou (intern at the Human Rights Centre of Ghent University)

The Human Rights Centre of Ghent University (Belgium)[1] and the Scholars at Risk Network (New York, U.S.), have jointly submitted a third party intervention before the European Court of Human Rights in the cases of Telek, Şar and Kivilcim v. Turkey. The cases concern three Turkish academics complaining about the cancellation of their passports as part of the broader crackdown on the signatories of the 2016 “Academics for Peace Petition.” In our third party intervention, we invite the Court to reaffirm its prior statements related to the protection of academic freedom and explicitly recognize the importance thereof, particularly at a time that massive violations take place in Turkey.  A brief overview of the facts of the case and the main arguments are provided hereunder. Continue reading

The Right to Life and the Scope of Control: Fernandes de Oliveira v Portugal

By Peter Bartlett (Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust Professor of Mental Health Law, Institute of Mental Health and School of Law, University of Nottingham)

On its face, this case considers the duty of the State to protect the lives of voluntary (or informal) psychiatric patients under Article 2 of the ECHR (right to life).  Below the surface, the case raises a number of broader questions about the scope of the positive obligations under Article 2; how they relate to the autonomy-related rights in Articles 3 (prohibition of torture, inhuman or degrading treatment), 5 (right to liberty) and 8 (right to privacy and family life); the fact-finding exercises and evidential approach of the ECtHR; and the relationship between the ECHR jurisprudence and other international law, most notably the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Continue reading

Rooman v. Belgium: when linguistic problems lead to a violation of core human rights

Marie Bourguignon is a PhD researcher at the Leuven Centre for Public Law, Institute for Human Rights. She specializes in linguistic rights and access to law in multilingual Belgium.

On 31 January 2019, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights convicted Belgium for inhuman or degrading treatment as well as for violating the right to liberty and security. The case concerns Mr. Rooman, a convicted sex offender suffering from mental disorders and sentenced to prison, who could not have proper access to psychiatric and psychologic care in his own language. Although the Court was right to find human rights violations in casu, it should not have based its reasoning on the official status of the language spoken by the applicant. Continue reading

Yeshtla v. the Netherlands: a missed opportunity to reflect on the discriminatory effects of States’ social policy choices

By Fulvia Staiano, Adjunct Professor of International Law and European Union Law (Giustino Fortunato University)

On 15 January 2019, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) delivered an inadmissibility decision on the case of Emabet Yeshtla v. the Netherlands. In this case, the ECtHR was asked to determine whether the withdrawal of the applicant’s housing benefits (motivated by the fact that she cohabited with an unlawfully resident son) had breached her right to respect for private and family life under Art. 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), alone and in conjunction with the prohibition of discrimination under Art. 14 ECHR. This case raised interesting questions on the potential impact of social assistance and welfare policies on recipients’ family life, as well as on the discriminatory effects of domestic norms that use social benefits as a tool to discourage irregular residence. Regrettably, the ECtHR dismissed this case without a thorough consideration of such questions. Continue reading

Another case of violating privacy and personal data protection: Catt v. the United Kingdom

This blogpost was written by Judith Vermeulen, PhD researcher in the Law and Technology Research Group at Ghent University.

Shortly after Big Brother Watch (see also the blogpost for this case), the European Court of Human Rights again had the opportunity to pronounce itself on the compatibility of Article 8 ECHR with the collection, retention and further use of personal data for public interest purposes by UK authorities. Catt, however, does not involve an assessment of the data processing regime as such. Rather, it evaluates the specific situation the applicant is in. While the question of adequacy of the legal and regulatory framework surrounding the impugned measures remains unanswered, the processing of the applicant’s data in particular is considered to not pass the necessity test. Noteworthy in any case is that the Court – in contrast to what the EU Court of Justice has decided in the past – reiterates that the indiscriminate collection of personal data is justifiable. With Brexit looming – and the CJEU accordingly soon losing its jurisdiction vis-à-vis Britain –, this development in the Strasbourg case-law is of particular importance. Finally, it is questionable whether Article 8 is in fact the best legal ground for assessing the facts of this case. The discussions these provoked at national may illustrate this point. Continue reading

Compensation for victims in inter-state cases. Is Georgia v Russia (I) another step forward?

By Kanstantsin Dzehtsiarou (University of Liverpool)

On 31 January 2019, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) delivered a judgment on just satisfaction in the inter-state case of Georgia v Russia (I). The ECtHR ordered the respondent state to pay 10 million euros to the applicant country. In turn, Georgia will have to distribute this amount among about 1500 victims of the violations identified by the Court in its main judgment. The Court is developing a very new line of case law by awarding non-pecuniary damage in inter-state cases. Until the judgment in Cyprus v Turkey, delivered in 2014, the Court has never awarded financial compensation in inter-state cases. It is beyond the scope of this short post to consider if the Court is doing the right thing by using just satisfaction in the inter-state cases. In this post I will just show some potentially problematic areas which the Court would have to address if this issue is considered again. There are a few pending inter-state cases and the question of compensation is very likely to resurface again. Continue reading

Dupin v. France: the ECtHR going old school in its appraisal of inclusive education?

By Johan Lievens (VU Amsterdam) and Marie Spinoy (Leuven Centre for Public Law, KULeuven)

In Dupin v. France the European Court of Human Rights saw itself confronted with one of the key conflicts in education law: when parents and state officials disagree on which educational trajectory is best for a child with a disability, who gets the final say? This case concerned a mother fighting the decision of the French authorities to refuse her child, who has Autism Spectrum Disorder, access to a general school (through a form of inclusive education). Instead, the child was referred to an ‘Institut medico-éducatif’, an institution established to provide care and a specialized type of education to children with an intellectual impairment. Seemingly going back on its prior case law, the Court did not consider the right to education of the child to be violated. Continue reading

Wunderlich v. Germany: enforcing compulsory home-schooling

By Daniel Monk, Professor of Law, Birkbeck, University of London

On 10th January 2019, the European Court of Human Rights unanimously held that there had been no violation of Article 8 in a case concerning the withdrawal of aspects of the authority of parents and the removal of children from their home for a period of three weeks. The case did not explicitly address Germany’s policy of compulsory schooling, but, rather the legality of the measures taken to enforce the policy. Nevertheless, the arguments raised highlight why home-schooling (or Elective Home Education) is an issue that goes to the heart of current debates about shifting understandings of parental responsibilities and the underlying potential tensions between the civil/political and the social/welfare functions of education. Continue reading

Activist’s conviction for hooliganism over ‘obscene’ protest violated Article 10 ECHR

This blog post was written by Ronan Ó Fathaigh and Dirk Voorhoof

On 15 January 2019, the European Court’s Second Section unanimously found that an anti-corruption activist’s conviction for staging an “obscene” demonstration outside a prosecutor’s office, targeting a number of public officials, violated the activist’s freedom of expression. The Court in Mătăsaru v. the Republic of Moldova took the Moldovan courts to task for holding that Article 10 of the European Convention was not applicable to the activist’s protest, with the European Court reiterating that “expressive conduct” which shocks, offends or disturbs is fully protected under Article 10’s guarantee of freedom of expression. Continue reading

Magyar Jeti Zrt v. Hungary: the Court provides legal certainty for journalists that use hyperlinks

By Carl Vander Maelen (research group Law & Technology, Ghent University)

On 4 December 2018 the European Court of Human Rights (‘the Court’) found a violation of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights in Magyar Jeti Zrt v. Hungary. The case concerns the imposition of objective liability for posting a hyperlink leading to defamatory content, with the Court ultimately deciding that using hyperlinks does not simply equate to acts of dissemination. Instead, it requires a case-by-case assessment on the basis of five flexible criteria, resulting in a highly relevant and well-rounded judgment. Continue reading

F.J.M. v. the United Kingdom: Judicial review of the proportionality of an eviction in private rental housing

By Juan Carlos Benito Sánchez, PhD Researcher (FRESH) at F.R.S.-FNRS and UCLouvain (Belgium)

In its decision in F.J.M. v. the United Kingdom, delivered on 29 November 2018, the European Court of Human Rights (First Section) declared inadmissible a complaint of a violation of Articles 6 and 8 of the Convention. The applicant had been evicted following a possession order made by a court, but was not allowed to raise a defence on proportionality grounds. She claimed that the possession order was disproportionate in her case and that she should have been able to require the court to make a proportionality assessment before granting possession and evicting her. This case concerns no-fault evictions in the UK, also known as “Article 21 evictions.” Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 allows landlords to evict tenants who are not at fault without the need to provide any reasons, as long as they notify the tenant in writing at least two months in advance. Continue reading