‘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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