Statement for the press :
ROUND TABLE REGARDING REFORM IN THE EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS
On April 19 and 20, 2012, with the initiative of the United Kingdom, as the holder of the Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the CoE, a high-level conference was held in Brighton (UK) on the need for further reform of the European Convention of Human Rights and the Court. The conference concluded with a declaration (the Brighton
Declaration), which contains the main directions of future reform, as well as the measures that relevant structures and the CoE state parties need to undertake in order to realize the proposed reform.
The leading argument for further reform of the Court is the very high number of applications to the Court, which has led to massive delays in reviewing them. In order to improve the situation, a series of measures have been proposed in an effort to reduce not only the number of applications to the Court, but also the number of violations of the Convention in the state parties, alleviating the workload of the ECHR, as well as increasing the speed of adjudication1 by it.
On May 23, 2012, Albania resumed from the United Kingdom the Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe (CoE), which it will hold for a 6-month period. Considering that realization of the ECHR reform was set as a priority during the Chairmanship of the United Kingdom, the process therefore directly entails Albania, Ukraine, and Romania, as subsequent holders of the Chairmanship of the CoE Committee of Ministers, and they will need to contribute to this reform process.
In this situation and on the eve of Albania’s assuming of the Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, the Albanian Helsinki Committee2 (AHC) on May 21, 2012, organized a round table discussion about the reform to be undertaken with regard to the Convention and the Court of Human Rights, on the basis of the Brighton Declaration and other previous declarations, prepared in the framework of the activity of the Council of Europe. Participating in the round table discussion were members and advisors of the Constitutional Court and the High Court, former members of these courts, jurists known for their professional activity, representatives of academia,
representatives of state institutions, civil society, lawyers, etc. The round table discussion sought to provide information with regard to reforms undertaken so far with regard to the Convention and the Court of Human Rights, the recently presented proposals by various political and professional actors, as well as to encourage debate in the country, among professionals of the law, on these reforms.
At the round table organized by AHC, we also presented the position of the civil society network in Europe with regard to this reform, part of which AHC was. Through the public statement,3 issued in March 2012, 134 organizations, representatives of civil society of CoE state parties, expressed their concern with regard to the potential risk that the proposed reform could cause, in terms of increasing delays in the review of cases brought to the Court or Human Rights, limiting the right of individuals to file petitions, the possibility of the Court turning into a fourth judicial instance, or the opportunity to facilitate the governments of state parties to avoid their obligations related to the protection of human rights.
In their joint declaration, the civil society representatives recommended that the current review of the protection system of human rights focus on three key priorities:
1. Enable, with additional resources as necessary, the Registry and the Committee of
Ministers to implement reforms already underway and/or authorized by Protocol
2. Improve the national execution of Court judgments and implementation of the
Convention more generally by the state parties;
3. Enhance the quality and transparency of the processes for national nomination of
judicial candidates to serve on the Court (ECHR).
The round table of May 21, 2012, organized with AHC’s initiative, discussed extensively on the abovementioned issues. Those present became familiar with the main phases of the reform of the European Court of Human Rights to date, and current initiatives being undertaken in this regard through remarks by expert Elira Kokona. The debate on ECHR
reform focused particularly on issues encountered by Albania with regard to the implementation of the European Convention on Human Rights and rulings of the ECHR on cases against Albania, particularly penal ones.
At the end of the round table discussion, participants made their recommendations that aim at easing the workload of the ECHR and strengthen the human rights protection system, guaranteed by the Constitution and the Convention, with an emphasis on increasing the effectiveness of protecting these rights at the national level.
The round table discussion concluded with the following recommendations:
1. Lobby and pressure the relevant state structures that will bear direct responsibility in the context of assuming the Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the CoE, in order to increase transparency with regard to any potential process for further reformation of the ECHR.
2. Look at the possibility to expand the competencies of the Constitutional Court, through interventions in the Constitution, to enable review by this court of requests related to all fundamental rights and freedoms, sanctioned in the Constitution and the ECHR.
3. Draft a legal provision in order to enable the direct execution of ECHR rulings4 and carry out, as soon as possible, the necessary amendments to the Penal Procedure Code, in order to enable the review of cases, in accordance with ECHR rulings.
4. Strengthen cooperation between state authorities, justice system actors, and the civil society to ensure for all citizens as many effective means as possible to enjoy their sanctioned rights and to petition relevant judicial and administrative rulings.
5. Encourage discussions among university and academic circles, between the various actors of the justice system (lawyers, jurists, judges, prosecutors, etc.), civil society organizations, with a view to increase awareness about the Convention on Human Rights and the European Court for highlighting and punishing human rights and enhancing respect for these rights.
6. Increase the capacities of lawyers, judges, and prosecutors about knowledge on the Convention and rulings of the European Court of Human Rights.
7. Include expanded knowledge on the Convention and ECHR jurisprudence in university and graduate curricula, particularly the Magistrate School, and in continued training that the school conducts for career judges and prosecutors.
8. Take measures to create a Human Rights Institute, as an independent public institute, aiming at sensitizing the public and other actors about the European Convention on Human Rights and the jurisprudence of the Court.
9. Carry out an indexing of European Court rulings, not just those against Albania, but also the main rulings involving other states, particularly on important cases that create a practice, with a view to preventing similar violations of citizens’ rights in the country.
10. Enable the compilation of commentaries and conclusive summaries of the jurisprudence of the European Court.
11. Train and sensitize the media to correctly understand the European Convention on Human Rights, the ECHR jurisprudence, and its reform process, so it can broaden the information and sensitization of public opinion on these issues;
12. Sensitize domestic non-profit organizations about the potential ECHR reform and encourage their participation and contribution to the implementation of the future reform.
13. Improve the competition process of candidates selected to be proposed to serve as judges at the ECHR in order to increase transparency and the professional qualities of competing candidates.