European rights court reform agreed to target backlog
(LONDON) - The Council of Europe agreed to reform the European Court of Human Rights to stop it continuing to be swamped by cases, according to a draft declaration at their conference in Britain on Thursday.
The 47 CoE member states, meeting in Brighton on the southern English coast, want to streamline the operations of the Strasbourg-based ECHR to make it more efficient.
"The main issue confronting the court has been, and continues to be, the sheer quantity of cases," ECHR president Nicolas Bratza said in a speech.
"It is to be hoped that the declaration will provide a stronger basis for dealing with this unacceptable situation."
He added: "The true test of any proposed amendment is the extent to which it will actually help the court cope more easily with the challenges facing it."
The court has a backlog of 150,000 cases. Around 90 percent of the applications lodged are declared inadmissible and the average duration of a procedure is four and a half years, according to John Darcy, and adviser to Bratza.
The draft declaration, which will be finalised on Friday, proposes to make the court's procedures more efficient.
It would give the court more money and greater manpower to deal with cases.
The time limit for an application to the court would be reduced from six months to four months once the final court decision has been made in a member state.
In a stricter interpretation of existing provisions, legal avenues within a member state must be fully exhausted before applying to the court.
All decisions made by the court should be applied by member states to avoid similar cases ending up back at the ECHR.
London has been pushing hard for deep reforms of the court.
But Bratza told the conference that the ECHR was "uncomfortable with the idea that governments can in some way dictate to the court how its case law should evolve or how it should carry out the judicial functions conferred on it".
"In order to fulfil its role the European Court must not only be independent; it must also be seen to be independent," he said.
He said the court could not pander to popular sentiment.
"It is in the nature of the protection of fundamental rights and the rule of law that sometimes minority interests have to be secured against the view of the majority."
Britain's Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke said he was a "little less relaxed" than Bratza that the court was making progress.
"The Brighton declaration is quite clear about the changes to the admissibility criteria we're going to make," he said.
The Council of Europe has been working since 2010 on making the ECHR more efficient.
Britain is hosting the Brighton meeting as it holds the council presidency.
Text and Picture Copyright 2012 AFP. All other Copyright 2012 EUbusiness Ltd. All rights reserved. This material is intended solely for personal use. Any other reproduction, publication or redistribution of this material without the written agreement of the copyright owner is strictly forbidden and any breach of copyright will be considered actionable.