A team of European researchers has published a catalogue of policy recommendations aimed at improving the way countries implement judgements by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). After examining implementation issues in eight EU Member States and one candidate country (Turkey), the JURISTRAS consortium concludes that while serious shortcomings exist, these failings can be addressed through various administrative, legislative and judicial reforms at the national level. The consortium argues that the ability of the ECtHR judgements to enhance human rights protection in Europe ultimately depends on the democratic commitment of national governments. Implementing the proposed reforms, the researchers suggest, could enhance protection of human rights and help reverse the dramatic rise in case loads at the Strasbourg Court.
Taking an interdisciplinary approach, JURISTRAS looked at legal cases originating from nine countries: Austria, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Romania, Turkey and the United Kingdom. These countries were selected because they have generated the largest number of ECtHR judgements in the specific areas under examination (discrimination, privacy, religious freedom, and freedoms of expression and assembly; as well as cases concerning minorities and vulnerable groups). In carrying out their empirical studies in each of the focus countries, the researchers were guided by three basic questions:
The country case studies revealed significant differences in how effectively the Strasbourg Court's judgements are implemented. In Bulgaria and Turkey, for example, the data showed that 60 per cent of cases remained unresolved. Germany, by contrast, managed to close 80 per cent of its cases, even if judgements took longer to implement. Meanwhile, the UK, Austria and France (to a lesser extent) achieved relatively large degrees of implementation relatively quickly. Italy and Greece, on the other hand, did not fare well with respect to either speed or volume of implementation.
In seeking to explain such variation across countries, the researchers found “a robust correlation” between government effectiveness and prompt implementation of the ECtHR judgements. The project utilised a World Bank definition of ‘government effectiveness’ measuring quality of public services and civil service, degree of independence from political pressures, quality of policy formulation and implementation, and credibility of government commitment to such policies. The consortium also identified a “statistically significant” relationship between the rule of law and implementation of judgements. With respect to the highly politicised topic of immigration, JURISTRAS found that, for the most part, national authorities have “strongly resisted changing their immigration laws” in response to the ECtHR’s case law. A full copy of the study can be accessed at: http://www.juristras.eliamep.gr/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/mainstreaming-european-human-rights-case-law-domestically.pdf
To help policy makers improve implementation of judgements from the Strasbourg Court, the researchers offer a wide range of recommendations, most of them aimed at national authorities. The project's key recommendations can be summarised as follows:
→ Boost institutional effectiveness as well as rights awareness among implementation actors.
Reform and improve existing executive-centred institutional arrangements responsible for implementation by bolstering their political independence and legal expertise and, if necessary, by augmenting their infrastructure and financial resources.
→ Diversify the involvement of social and political actors in domestic implementation and rights protection.
→ Strengthen the role of national judges in implementation and rights protection.
→ Diffuse ECtHR legal norms.
JURISTRAS - The Strasbourg Court, democracy and the human rights of individuals and communities: patterns of litigation, state implementation and domestic reform (duration: 1/9/2006 – 31/8/2009) was a Specific Targeted Research Project funded under the 6th Framework Programme for Research of the European Union, Thematic Priority 7 – Citizens and governance in a knowledge-based society.
Contact: Dr. Dia Anagnostou, Dia.Anagnostou@EUI.eu; firstname.lastname@example.org