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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Have 8,000 European Court of Human Rights rulings been ignored?

Have 8,000 European Court of Human Rights rulings been ignored?

26 April, 2011 - 12:44 -- Patrick Casey

The number of judgments from the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) that are yet to be fully implemented is more than 8,000. However do these unimplemented rulings represent instances where Government's have simply ignored the court?

“Other countries have turned a blind eye to 8,000 Strasbourg judgments, without the sky falling in on them.” Daily Mail 14 April 2011

As the row over votes for prisoners between the UK and the European Court of Human Rights continues, it has been suggested that the Government should follow the example of other states by simply blocking out the sound of banging Strasbourg gavels.

Earlier this month, the Daily Mail reported that a group of Conservative MPs were urging Prime Minister David Cameron to ignore the ruling that British prisoners should be allowed to vote in elections, pointing to the vast number of ECtHR rulings seemingly disregarded by other nations bound by the Court's judgments

The article cited the figure of 8,000 cases which it stated had been “ignored”, giving some specific examples.

Curious about the size of the figure we went in search of facts and, despite contacting the ECtHR directly, we were initially uncertain where the figures had come from.

Last week, the figure is elaborated on in a report published by the think tank Civitas, which is authored by Conservative MP Dominic Raab.

As Mr Raab explains: 'As of 2009, there were 8,661 cases "pending" before the Committee of Ministers - i.e. unimplemented judgments.”

This is indeed what the figures show, so far as the cases pending are concern. Page 33 of the Annual Report on the execution of the ECtHR's judgments gives the number.

The Annual Report explains that some of the rise is due to increasing complexity of actually implementing these judgements.

It states: "The last few years have seen a significant increase in the number of cases relating to complex and sensitive issues, which need much more time to resolve such as those touching upon relations between state entities and federal authorities, freedom of religion or of association (particularly in the political sphere), or revealing situations of serious discrimination or raising the need of large-scale reforms (e.g. excessive length of proceedings or non-execution of judicial decisions).

"The difficulties inherent in such situations are evident at the stage of supervising execution and the assistance capabilities available can play a significant role in the search for satisfactory execution measures."

The problem is that although all of these cases are pending - some for a long time - we should not necessarily view them all as "ignored".

Philip Leach, Professor of Human Rights at London Metropolitan Universities explained to Full Fact: "It is a complete misrepresentation to describe these cases as ones which have been 'ignored' by other states. Of course, the implementation of judgments is a process which may require various steps, which can be more or less complex and more or less time-consuming."

So where does this leave the reporting of the figures? It is clear looking at the lengthy list of judgments that it isn't quite as simple as saying they were all ignored. Wading through some of the examples in the database of pending ECtHR cases highlights some of the lengthy and complex disputes that have gone on for some of these 8,000.

But nevertheless because these cases are classed as pending they have, by definition, not been fully implemented.

The political implications of these pending cases does not seem to be severe. As the ECtHR website explains that where judgments are yet to be executed, “in practice, the Committee of Ministers very seldom needs to exert political and diplomatic pressure but functions rather as a forum for constructive dialogue, thus helping states find satisfactory solutions enabling them to execute the Court's judgments.”

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