Russian lawmakers voted on Friday to ratify a key protocol on reforming the European Court of Human Rights, clearing the way for the long-delayed reform after years of resistance from Moscow.
The lower house of Russia’s parliament, the Duma, ratified on Friday 15 January 2010 the Protocol 14 of the European Convention of Human Rights with an overwhelming majority of 392 votes in favour and 56 opposed. Russia was the last member of the 47-nation Council of Europe to have ratified it.
Russia was pushed to reverse its previous rejection of the protocol in 2006 because the Council of Europe agreed to a provision stating that a Russian judge would participate in any decisions concerning Russia (more than 30.000 out of the 12.000 pending cases) and because the remaining 46 members decided in May 2009 to carry on the reforms also without Russia with the so-called Protocol 14bis.
Reforms under Protocol 14 were necessary to streamline the European Court of Human Right’s work, reduce its backlog and increase the effectiveness of the European Convention on Human Rights control system. Indeed over the past years the Court increased its caseload from 404 cases in 1981 to 34.546 cases in 2002!
Protocol 14 complements a first crucial reform entered into force in 1998 which brought about the current single, full-title and compulsory jurisdiction of the Court and recognition of the right of individual petition, abolishing the crucial role played by the Committee of the Ministers up to that moment.
However, this reform proved inadequate to cope with the new situation and in 2000 new works started aimed at further streamlining and speeding up the procedures to cope with the influx of applications generated by the constant increase in the number of states part of the Council (which in 2004 already counted 800 million citizens) and, more importantly, due to the increased awareness of European citizens to the protection of human rights.
It can be argued that the European Court of Justice is a victim of its own success. indeed, it is often considered the last resort especially by those individuals that consider their judicial systems inadequate (Russia is one of these countries given that some 30.000 cases out of the 120.000 cases awaiting review by the court originated from it). This also true for those cases where conditions to appeal do not apply (more than 90% of the appeals is eventually inadmissible).
The considerable amount of complaints brought before the Court leads to long lasting procedures which seriously endanger the credibility of the Court, especially when it is called to rule on …the reasonable duration of processes in the states parts of the Convention.
As the Explanatory Report clarifies all these shortcomings will be reduced. The Court will have the procedural means and flexibility it needs to process all applications in a timely fashion, while allowing it to concentrate on the most important cases which require in-depth examination by making a single judge competent to declare inadmissible or strike out an individual application. Furthermore, the college composed of 3 judges will decide on the admissibility of a case as well as on its content when the case has been object of a consolidate jurisprudence.
The fact that the Protocol opens the opportunity to the Committee of Ministers to decide by a two-thirds majority to bring proceedings before the Grand Chamber of the Court against any State which refuses to comply with the Court’s final judgment is politically relevant.
As it is relevant, last but not least, that article 17 by amending article 59 of the Convention allows the adhesion to the Convention by the EU.
This represents an important political signal although it is clear that the Protocol does not take into account the EU’s opinion since at the time of the negotiations the EU it did not have the juridical authority to sit at the negotiating table.
Despite this, what is important is that now the adhesion to the Convention is not only possible but also compulsory. It is established in article 6(2) of the TEU and protocol 8 of the consolidated version of the new Treaties, following the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty on 1st December. This will include Protocol 14 and the other protocols already ratified by all EU Member States (1 and 6).
However, few questions still remain open such as the future of the protocols not ratified by all Member States dealing with domains falling under the EU competences (Protocols 4, 7, 12 and 13).
In conclusion, a new phase for the construction of a Europe of rights has now started. Despite a foreseeable long path ahead (unanimity and ratification by all the Members of the EU is compulsory), the Spanish Presidency’s determination to define a mandate to finally kick off the formal negotiations is a good omen.
As usual, the European Parliament will make its voice heard, given that its consensus is required.