Russia and reforms to the European Court of Human Rights
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe meeting today will discuss the State Duma’s refusal to ratify Protocol 14 to the European Human Rights Convention. The Russian parliament’s reluctance to ratify this document has left the Council of Europe at an impasse.
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) meeting today will discuss the State Duma’s refusal to ratify Protocol 14 to the European Human Rights Convention. The Russian parliament’s reluctance to ratify this document, already signed by the government, has left the Council of Europe at an impasse.
Russian PACE delegation members admit that the Duma has shown a lack of foresight and provoked another attack from the “hostile camp” – in the form of a barrage of decisions about Russian appeals to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). Protocol 14 to the European Human Rights Convention aims to modernize ECHR procedures so that appeals can be processed faster. At present, three judges decide whether to accept submitted appeals; Protocol 14 would allow a single judge to make these decisions. Decisions on the substance of the appeals would be made by a panel of three judges rather than seven. Protocol 14 also changes the appointment rules for ECHR judges: one term of nine years, with no extensions. At present, judges are allowed to serve more than one six-year term.
Russian representatives were directly involved in working out all these new rules. But rumor has it that these Russian representatives themselves subsequently advised the Duma to block ratification.
Yuri Sharandin, chairman of the Federation Council’s legal affairs committee, explains Russia’s position as follows. If Protocol 14 is not ratified, “the number of ECHR rulings will not decrease, because the court operates on the basis of precedents and is bound by its prior rulings in similar cases, so its decisions are easily predictable.” On the other hand, Russia considers that there will be fewer “politically unbalanced rulings,” since the filtration process works better when there are three judges rather than one.
Overall, Russia is in favor of speeding up the processing of appeals in the ECHR – but only if “quality” is maintained. In Sharandin’s view, a different solution should be used: hiring additional judges. This may increase costs, but it would facilitate a real increase in the speed of operations without changing the quantity of layers in the filter. The Council of Europe’s approach to ECHR reforms implies that the Europeans “aren’t interested in the faster process affecting them – they want it to overwhelm us.” Finally, a logical question: why is ratification by all member states required for such an important document to come into force?
Observers maintain that Russia’s arguments are an attempt to put a good face on things. There’s a simple explanation for why the Europeans were “short-sighted” enough to leave no alternatives in the event that some country might refuse to ratify Protocol 14: the text of this protocol was written jointly, the governments of Council of Europe member states promised to ratify it, and they did ratify it. No one could have imagined that Russia would decide to block ratification.
The decision on whether the ECHR will accept any particular appeal always takes account of the opinion of a judge from the nation in question; Protocol 14 does not abolish this rule. In other words, even if the decision to accept appeals is made by one judge, there would actually be two people involved. Secondly, even if the Duma has managed to slow down the barrage of rulings on appeals from Russia, this won’t last long; only as long as it takes the ECHR to reappoint around 20 judges whose terms will soon expire.
What’s more, it’s quite likely that the appeals which Moscow regards as the most controversial will be processed faster. The compensation sums are also likely to increase. Moscow is well aware of this, so it is once again discussing the question of reducing Russia’s contribution to the Council of Europe – on the grounds that the money saved (20 million euros a year) could be used to pay compensation based on ECHR rulings.
Council of Europe Secretary General Terry Davis can only sigh. “Russia is within its rights to do this.” On the other hand, says Davis, “many are surprised that the Duma doesn’t want the ECHR to be more efficient.” All the same, the Council of Europe will seek a solution to this situation. “We shall recruit additional lawyers, so that we are able to consider the increasing volume of appeals,” says Davis. Hiring lawyers will be less costly than hiring more judges.
Russia remains among the leading sources of appeals to the ECHR: one appeal in four comes from Russian citizens, against the Russian authorities.