In the Media

European Court of Human Rights in 'crisis'

PUBLISHED December 18, 2009

Europe?s foremost human rights court is in ?crisis?, with a backlog of more than 120,000 cases waiting up to seven years to be heard, lawyers have warned.

Leading human rights barrister Lord Lester QC said last week that the influx of new states since the fall of communism in 1989 has plunged Strasbourg?s European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) (pictured) into ?crisis?.

Speaking at a joint Law Society and Human Rights Lawyers Association event, he said Russia alone accounts for 28% of over 120,000 cases pending. The court?s 47 full-time judges from the Council of Europe?s 47 states, including Russia, were overwhelmed by the volume of work, he said, and a system for ?screening? cases for admissibility was urgently needed.

Nuala Mole, director of the Advice on Individual Rights in Europe Centre, said better case management was required. She said: ?Some 95% of cases that come to the court are inadmissible and 50% are repeat cases, where the country has ignored the court?s previous finding and violated the convention again. This is an unacceptable waste of court time.? A meeting scheduled for February 2010 at Interlaken will ?assess plans for the court?s reform?, she said.

Edward Adams, head of the Ministry of Justice?s human rights division, said: ?Register a case with the court today and you will have to wait until 2016 for it to be resolved ? and the backlog is growing.? A package of reforms known as Protocol 14 has been blocked for the past three years by Russia, he added.

Lester added that, although the newly admitted east European states had overwhelmed the court and some had shown scant respect for human rights, they could still be the ECHR?s salvation. ?They know what persecution is and want protection from it, whereas we in the west are tired and cynical,? he said.

Human rights actions in the UK are heard in the domestic courts rather than the ECHR because the European Convention on Human Rights has been incorporated into UK law through the Human Rights Act 1998.