Last week the Judicial Year 2014 officially started in Strasbourg at the European Court of Human Rights. In what has become an anuual tradiiton, the Court’s President, Dean Spielmann looked back at the past year, highlighting the most important developments. The most remarkable aspect is probably that the Court’s backlog has decreased again, now falling below the symbolic number of 100,000 (in September 2011, for example, the backlog was still 160,000 cases. The good news is partly due to internal reforms, such as the single-judge system and the creation of a new section of the Court dedicated specfically to the filtering of cases. In addition, the staff capacity has been temporarily increased to deal with the blacklog by voluntary extra contributions of state parties to the Convention.
Even if the numbers are still very high, the significant decrease of the past two years is hopeful. Looking beyond the general figures, it is probably more telling to mention some details. More than half of the currently pending applications come from four(!) countries only: Russia, Italy, Ukraine and Serbia. This says something about the future (in the sense of judgments), but also about current structural problems in those countries. In addition, last year, the Court found most judgments with violations against the following countries: Russia, Turkey, Romania, Ukraine, and Hungary. In total the Court issued 916 judgments last year, a slight decrease compared to 2012 (1,093), which can be explained by the joining of cases in judgments and the focus on more complex cases. Contentwise, most violations concern the right to a fair trial (art. 6: 30%), the prohibition of torture (art. 3: 18%) and the right to liberty (art. 5: 16%). Finally, if one looks at the number of newly allocated cases over 2013 compared to a country’s population, many former Yugoslav states as well as Ukraine and Moldova score very high, indicating a relatively large influx of applications from those countries.
On a separate yet related matter, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has produced a report entitled ‘ECHR – need to reinforce the training of legal professionals’. This report, written by rapporteur Jean-Pierre Michel, emphasizes the need for better and more systematic training of professionals at the national level in order to increase the effectiveness of the Convention system.
Finally, Adam Bodnar and Dominika Bychawska-Siniarska, both lawyers at the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, have published an Op-Ed online entitled ‘Saving the Strasbourg Court’ which includes some very important points about the current discussions in both the UK, Russia, and elsewhere on the Strasbourg system.