Interview with the President of the ECtHR Linos-Alexandre Sicilianos
V. Portnov: Good afternoon, Mr. President!
We would like to thank you for taking the time and finding the opportunity to talk to us and answer the questions for our Journal “Human Rights. Case¬law of the European Court of Human Rights”, one of the founders of which is the judicial community of Russia. By the way, in 2015 you kindly provided us with an article that was published in No. 11/15 of our Journal. Unfortunately, it was published only in Russian, but within the scientific volume of the Encyclopaedia of the European Court — we will talk about it later — the article will be published in French, as it was originally written, and translated into the Russian language.
With reference to the issue of language universality, let me suggest the following format for conducting our conversation: Anastasia, development editor, will ask her questions in French and translate mine into English.
Let us meet the standards of the Council of Europe and above all, the standards of the European Court, as well as the standards of our encyclopaedic edition!
L.-A. Sicilianos: Thank you very much, I think this is a great idea. This language specific character is an integral part of our work.
V. Portnov: Thank you. First of all, we would like to congratulate you once again, Mr. Sicilianos, on your election to the high office of President of the European Court of Human Rights, the Court, which today remains perhaps the only most competent institution for the protection of human rights, and not only in Europe. Paying tribute to your rich professional and everyday experience, we warmly welcome the choice of judges of the European Court.
Our first question concerns the necessity of changing something in the European institute for the protection of Human Rights so that it fully corresponds to the main goals and objectives set by its founding fathers, of course, given that the Court was originally created in a completely different political and public situation, and only a few states in Europe were its members. Now almost all European states are subject to the jurisdiction and attention of the Court.
The arrival of new states involves “new blood”, meaning a new look at perhaps already well-established things, but new problems as well.
Therefore, inevitably we need to adapt to changing conditions: political, economic, humanitarian. But the task of the European Court is — and the Court managed to carry it out — to confront the challenges and fulfill his mission with dignity.
Of course, this is a general question, and any possible changes require considerable effort and time.
Nevertheless, what, in your opinion, should be done in the near future, and what tasks are to be solved later on?
L.-A. Sicilianos: The Court is facing many challenges, but this is not something new, as over its history it has often been confronted with difficult issues and the consequences of political problems. Of course, its overriding concern is to continue to deliver high quality judgments in good time.
Having said that, the first challenge remains the question of the volume of cases. If the maximum exploitation of the procedural tools provided by Protocol No. 14 has produced results which greatly exceeded what was expected, there remains a residual stock of the most complex cases which the Court still has difficulty in dealing with in good time. While this mainly concerns a limited number of States, the Court is nevertheless determined to maintain the momentum achieved by its internal program of reform and its continuing innovation as regards working methods. No doubt IT will play a role in this as it already does for the processing of inadmissible and repetitive cases.
In the context of case¬load, from the beginning of this year the Court has introduced a new dedicated non-contentious phase to its procedure. This is intended to encourage the conclusion of friendly settlements in suitable cases as a way of affording more rapid redress to applicants while reducing the burden of work for the Court and for national authorities. Of course, not every case is suitable, but there are many cases where there is clear case-law in which all parties have an interest in agreeing a settlement.
A continuing challenge relates to the effective execution of the Court’s judgments and more generally the obligation of States to secure the rights and freedoms set out in the Convention within their national system. It is true that supervision of the execution of the Court’s judgments remainsthe responsibility of the Committee of Ministers as the Court recalled in the recent Mammadov judgment [Proceedings [GC] under Article 46 § 4 in the case of Ilgar Mammadov v. Azerbaijan, 29 May 2019, application no. 15172/13. — Editor’s note] in a response to the Committee of Ministers’ request under Article 46 § 4. However, the Court has taken a more proactive role in certain circumstances, notably in cases of structural or systemic violation or where the situation leaves no option as regards the appropriate measure of redress. The Court is also reflecting on possible closer cooperation between the Registry and the Council of Europe’s Execution Department, with a view to improving efficiency in the execution process.
As regards national implementation, one of the avenues which the Court continues to explore is closer dialogue with national superior courts. The Superior Courts’ Network which now counts 79 courts from 36 countries is evidence of this enhanced cooperation and of the interest among national courts for an exchange of information. At the same time the entry into force of Protocol No. 16 has given institutional form to that dialogue. The Court gave its first advisory opinion under Protocol No. 16 in April of this year. We will have to see how this procedure develops in the coming months and years.
Another concern is the increasing number of violations found in respect of Article 18 of the Convention (the so called abuse of power provision). In 2018 the Court found five such violations compared with the overall total of 12 since the first Article 18 violation in 2004. This is worrying because it reveals a growing failure to respect the obligation of good faith application of Convention standards and the primacy of the rule of law.
A particular difficulty arises for the Court in connection with inter-State proceedings, of which there are currently an increasing number deriving in particular from different territorial disputes between Council of Europe member States. Quite apart from their political sensitivity and the inherently complex legal questions to which they give rise, these cases require extensive preparation and often entail wide-scale evidentiary problems. Moreover, they are often accompanied by large numbers of individual applications raising substantially the same issues.
Finally, although in view of the most recent developments the budgetary pressure may be expected to ease somewhat, it is important that the Court remains adequately resourced to be in a position to respond to the different challenges identified.
A. Abakumova: Comme vous le savez probablement, notre Maison d’édition, avec la participation de la Cour européenne, la Fondation René Cassin et la plus ancienne revue juridique russe « La Justice de Russie », a lancé un projet de publication de l’Encyclopédie multilingue et en plusieurs volumes « La Cour européenne des droits de l’homme. La théorie et la pratique à l’égard de la Russie et les autres Etats membres du Conseil de l’Europe », portant sur la création et le développement de l’institution des droits de l’homme en Europe. Le projet vise à refléter le travail du mécanisme pour la protection des droits de l’homme en Europe dans ses diverses manifestations.
La publication est réalisée en règle générale en trois langues (le russe et les deux langues officielles du Conseil de l’Europe — l’anglais et/ou le français) conformément aux sections thématiques (documents, articles scientifiques, actes judiciaires, etc.).
Nous sommes conscients que ce projet durera depuis de nombreuses années, bien que, malheureusement, l’idée de protéger les droits de l’homme soit éternelle.
Il est très important pour nous de connaître votre opinion et, éventuellement, de recevoir des conseils ou des recommandations concernant la création et la diffusion de l’Encyclopédie de la Cour européenne.
Et donc notre deuxième question est liée à ce sujet: comment évaluez-vous l’importance et la nécessité de ce travail et est-ce qu’il y a, à votre avis, des choses à ajouter pour améliorer ce projet?
L.-A. Sicilianos: De mon point de vue, l’Encyclopédie est un travail absolument capital. En effet, il s’agit d’une entreprise à la fois ambitieuse et unique que la Cour européenne des droits de l’homme soutient depuis son lancement. Son intérêt tient au fait qu’elle rassemble des documents émanant de sources très différentes : textes officiels, documents historiques, opinions et commentaires, articles de doctrine et jugements de la Cour. Je dois saluer le travail accompli par les autorités judiciaires russes et en particulier le Président Lebedev pour promouvoir et incorporer les standards de la Convention dans la pratique judiciaire russe et à cet égard le rôle joué par l’Encyclopédie est déterminant. En effet, nous ne travaillons que dans les deux langues officielles du Conseil de l’Europe et il est essentiel que les russophones puissent avoir accès à toute cette documentation. Bien entendu, on peut toujours améliorer les choses et je dois dire que les promoteurs de l’Encyclopédie peuvent compter sur le soutien de la Cour pour enrichir leur fond documentaire. Nous avons en effet de très nombreux documents (par exemple les fiches thématiques) qui peuvent faire l’objet de traduction en russe et qui sont libres de droits.
V. Portnov: Let me present you the first volume of the Encyclopaedia “Convention System for the Protection of Human Rights in Europe”, which has already been published. It includes articles and documents in the first version — the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention, the Rules of European institutions. I hope that this year another 3 volumes will be released.
It would be logical and correct if your introductory article opens the third section of the Encyclopaedia that is dedicated to the most important case-law of the European Court.
Between 2019 and 2021 another 10–11 volumes from different sections are planned to be published.
While preparing the first volume, we received the most active support and effective assistance from the European Court, primarily from the registry and personally from the Registrar Roderick Liddell. We would be more than delighted if this cooperation continues.
The encyclopaedic edition`s strategy is coordinated by the Scientific Board, which consists of judges and staff of the European Court, both acting — Angelika Nußberger, Robert Spano, Roderick Liddell, and those who previously worked in the Court — Jean¬Paul Costa, Egbert Myjer, Michele De Salvia, prominent experts in the field of Russian and international law — Yuri Chaika, Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation, as well as Sabir Kekhlerov, Oleg Ankudinov, Ivan Soltanovsky, Vladimir Maximov, Andrey Bushev, Thomas Hammarberg, Vincent Berger. The Board is headed by Vyacheslav Lebedev, President of the Supreme Court of Russia, and Guido Raimondi, former President of the European Court.
Recently, during the discussion of current issues, some members of the Scientific Board, who know you well for a long time, indicated that your participation in our Board would be very important, necessary and extremely useful.
Fulfilling the assignment, in particular, of Anatoly Kovler, Erik Fribergh, Khanlar Hajiyev and others, I appeal to you with a proposal to join the Scientific Board for further work on the encyclopaedic project.
L.-A. Sicilianos: It is with great pleasure that I accept your proposal to join the Scientific Board. I also would like to thank you personally for the diligent work that has already been done. I would be very happy for my article to appear in the first volume of the third section and to open a section dedicated to such an important issue — the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights. Thank you for your proposal.
A. Abakumova: Nous avons un nouveau projet, qui est presque à sa maturité, concernant la diffusion de l’idée de protection des droits de l’homme, naturellement liée à l’histoire et à la jurisprudence de la Cour européenne. Cette diffusion peut être réalisée par voie de présentation de l’Encyclopédie aux étudiants des universités juridiques en Russie. Ce n’est pour rien que Jean¬Paul Costa ait appelé la Cour européenne «la belle inconnue». Nous avons commencé par l’Université d’État de Saint¬Pétersbourg et nous souhaitons étendre cette expérience à toutes les universités juridiques en Russie.
En tenant compte du caractère universel de l’Encyclopédie de la Cour européenne et de sa manière universelle de présentation des documents, nous voudrions essayer de présenter cette édition également dans les principales institutions d’enseignement de l’Europe. Nous avons déjà commencé à travailler dans cette direction. Nous espérons sincèrement que nos espoirs commenceront à se matérialiser d’ici la fin de l’année.
L.-A. Sicilianos: Parfait! C’est une chose très importante et nécessaire.
V. Portnov: We also hope that you will keep up a good tradition and give us the opportunity to publish your articles or other works in our Journal and in the Encyclopaedia of the European Court as well.
On behalf of all Russian readers, we sincerely thank you, Mr. President, for giving us so much time, despite your extremely busy schedule.
We do really hope that our cooperation — one way or another — will continue.