Europe strikes rights court reform pact
(LONDON) - The Council of Europe's 47 member states agreed a declaration Friday aimed at making the European Court of Human Rights more efficient, but rejected more radical changes proposed by host Britain.
Meeting in Brighton on the southern English coast, they struck a deal intended to streamline the operations of the overburdened Strasbourg-based ECHR.
The main change makes it easier to reject applications to the court, which 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, an adviser to ECHR president Nicolas Bratza.
"Concrete measures have been adopted," council secretary general Thorbjoern Jagland told AFP.
"The amendment to the admissibility criteria -- that will make it easier for the court to dispose (of) applications that obviously should not be in an international court.
"The court has had to deal with so many applications that are actually not significant violations" of the European Convention on Human Rights.
"It will make the role of the court more efficient and the court can deal with the most serious violations of the convention. This is the most important outcome."
The declaration gives the court more money and greater manpower to deal with cases.
The time limit for an application to the court will be reduced from six months to four months once the final court decision has been made in a member state.
And 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.
Jagland said the court's real problem was that too many member states did not fully implement the convention, with the result that the same cases kept coming back to Strasbourg.
The declaration confirms the ultimate authority of the court to interpret the convention; the legally binding nature of the court's judgments, which must be fully implemented by the member states; and the right of individual petition.
A source said that British politicians and media were pushing for radical curbing of the court's powers, but there was no question of that happening.
The measures did not amount to a "revolutionary change" in the court's work, Jagland said.
"There has been a lot of debate around Europe on the role of the court. That's why I think it was very important that the basic principles that have underpinned the work of the court" have been reaffirmed. "We are bringing the court back to the basic principles."
Member states will need to ratify the declaration, and the process should be finalised by 2013.
Britain hosted the Brighton meeting as it currently holds the council presidency.
On Thursday, Britain expressed frustration at the move by the ECHR preventing London from deporting a radical cleric.
Prime Minister David Cameron vowed to continue efforts to remove Abu Qatada to Jordan, despite the process being thrown into doubt by the Islamist's last-minute and apparently unexpected appeal to the Strasbourg court.
The cleric's case is one of several high-profile disputes between London and Strasbourg.