‘A Court that matters’ to whom and for what? Academic freedom as a (non-)impact case

By Başak Çalı[*] & Esra Demir-Gürsel[†]

On 17 March 2021, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR or the Court) announced a new case-processing strategy. A document dramatically titled ‘A Court that matters’ states that the aim of this strategy is to deal with the pending cases on its docket in a more ‘targeted’ and ‘effective’ manner. The new strategy introduces a new category of cases called ‘impact’ cases. These cases fall under Category IV, covering ‘potentially’ well-founded cases not involving core rights under Articles 2, 3, 4, and 5(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR or the Convention). The Court states that it has so far identified around 650 of the 17,800 pending Category IV cases as ‘impact’ cases. This leaves 17,150 cases whose adjudication will take a minimum of five to six years.

How, then, has the Court selected these 650 ‘impact’ cases? The Court explains the criteria to identify ‘impact’ cases as follows: ‘the conclusion of the case might lead to a change or clarification of international or domestic legislation or practice; the case touches upon moral or social issues; the case deals with an emerging or otherwise significant human rights issue.’ In addition, ‘[i]f any of these criteria are met, the Court may take into account whether the case has had significant media coverage domestically and/or is politically sensitive.’

In this blog post, we argue that the criteria laid out by the Court beg more questions than they answer. There is a crucial need for the Court to clarify how it distinguishes ‘impact’ from non-impact cases, and at what stage of the proceedings, through which process and based on whose expertise it does so.

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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

Kaboglu and Oran v. Turkey: protecting the private life of scholars, yet failing to recognize the academic freedom dimension at issue

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

On 30 October 2018, the European Court of Human Rights held unanimously that, in the case of Kaboglu and Oran v. Turkey, there has been a violation of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The applicants were two university professors specializing in the protection of human rights and members of the Advisory Council on Human Rights. After the release of their report addressed to the government concerning questions of minority and cultural rights in Turkey, they faced harsh criticism through newspaper articles containing threats and hate speech against them. According to the ECtHR, the domestic courts of Turkey had failed to strike a fair balance between the applicants’ right to respect for their private life (Article 8) and the freedom of the press (Article 10). In its judgment , the Court identified the failure of the domestic courts to give due weight to the applicants’ Article 8 rights, but failed to recognize the negative impact that the articles in question as well had on their freedom of expression and academic freedom. Continue reading

Academic freedom dimension overlooked in the case of Tuskia and Others v. Georgia

By Joanne Fish (University of Glasgow)

In Tuskia and Others v. Georgia (11 October 2018) the European Court of Human Rights ruled on a case concerning a protest against university reforms by a group of academics at Tbilisi State University. The applicants are nine professors, six of which were members of the Grand Academic Council, the highest representative body of the University until the Council was abolished in June 2005. The Strasbourg court ruled that their removal by the police from the rector’s office had constituted a justified interference with their right to freedom of assembly. In doing so the Court arguably did not take into account a lot of the context of the case, causing the academic freedom dimensions of the case to be significantly downplayed to the extent that it reads akin to an ordinary workplace dispute. Continue reading