Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 November 2019
European Court of Human Rights – Protocol No. 16 – Advisory Opinions – Managing backlog – Unpredictable effects – Complex judicial dialogue – Interplay with preliminary rulings of European Court of Justice and national constitutional courts – Bosphorus presumption – National courts in charge of judicial diplomacy – Increased burden for national courts
Associate Professor, KU Leuven, Centre for Public Law. The author would like to thank Paul Lemmens and Wessel Wijtvliet as well as the anonymous peer reviewer for their valuable comments. The usual disclaimers apply.
1 See for an overview: Popelier, P. et al. (eds.), Criticism of the European court of human rights: shifting the convention system: counter-dynamics at the national and EU level (Intersentia 2016).Google Scholar
2 The problem of judicial activism/judicial restraint is deeply related to the technique of interpretation of the Convention. On this see de Londras, F. and Dzehtsiarou, K., Great Debates on the European Convention on Human Rights (Palgrave 2018) p. 71–92.Google Scholar
3 There is an important body of literature on the margin of appreciation. See, for a recent contribution with references to that literature, Lemmens, K., ‘The Margin of Appreciation in the ECtHR’s Case Law A European Version of the Levels of Scrutiny Doctrine?’, 20 European Journal of Law Reform (2018) p. 78.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
5 Although major progress has been made, in 2018, there were still 56.350 cases pending before a judicial formation. At its apex in 2011, the number of cases pending was 151.600. See: ⟨www.echr.coe.int/Documents/Stats_analysis_2018_ENG.pdf⟩, visited 4 October 2019, p. 7.
6 An overview is given in Paprocka, A. and Ziółkowski, M., ‘Advisory opinions under Protocol No. 16 to the European Convention on Human Rights’, 11 EuConst (2015) p. 276.Google Scholar
7 Ruedin, X.-B., ‘De minimis non curat the European Court of Human Rights: The Introduction of a New Admissibility Criterion (Article 12 of Protocol No.14)’, 1 European Human Rights Law Review (2008) p. 80.Google Scholar
8 Preamble to Protocol No. 16 to the Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
9 G. Zampetti, ‘The recent challenges for the European system of fundamental rights: Protocol No. 16 to the ECHR and its role facing constitutional and European Union level of protection’, s.d., ⟨hdl.handle.net/10419/185058⟩, visited 3 October 2019, p. 9-10; Giannopoulos, C., ‘Considerations on Protocol no. 16: can the new advisory competence of the European Court of Human Rights breathe new life into the European Convention on Human Rights’, 16 German LJ (2015) p. 337–338.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
10 Gerards, J., ‘Advisory Opinions, Preliminary Rulings and the New Protocol No. 16 to the European Convention of Human Rights: A Comparative and Critical Appraisal’, 21 Maastricht Journal of European and Comparative Law (2014) p. 630 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Paprocka and Ziółkowski, supra n. 6; Giannopoulos, supra n. 9, p. 337. A critical account can be found in Dzehtsiarou, K. and O’Meara, N., ‘Advisory jurisdiction and the European Court of Human Rights: a magic bullet for dialogue and docket-control?’, 34 Legal Studies (2014) p. 444.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
11 Zampetti, supra n. 9, made an interesting comparison from the Italian perspective.
12 A special website on the reform has been created: ⟨www.echr.coe.int/Pages/home.aspx?p=basictexts/reform&c=#newComponent_1346159600649⟩, visited 3 October 2019.
13 Council of Europe Press Division, ‘A Group of Wise Persons to secure the long-term effectiveness of the European Court of Human Rights’, 14 September 2005, ⟨rm.coe.int/168071ebfc⟩, visited 3 October 2019.
14 Report of the Group of Wise Persons to the Committee of Ministers, 15 November 2006, 46 International Legal Materials (2007) p. 81.
15 The High Level Conferences took place in Interlaken (2010), Izmir (2011) and Brighton (2012). After the adoption of Protocol No. 16, there were still conferences in Oslo (2014), Brussels (2015) and Copenhagen (2018): the Court’s functioning and the interaction with the domestic authorities were all discussed during these later conferences.
16 We can recall here that following the Interlaken Declaration, ‘Before the end of 2019, the Committee of Ministers should decide on whether the measures adopted have proven to be sufficient to assure sustainable functioning of the control mechanism of the Convention or whether more profound changes are necessary’.
17 Report of the Group of Wise Persons to the Committee of Ministers, supra n. 14, p. 85 ff.
18 For a detailed history see the Introduction of the Explanatory Report to Protocol No. 16. ⟨rm.coe.int/CoERMPublicCommonSearchServices/DisplayDCTMContent?documentId=09000016800d383e⟩, visited 3 October 2019.
19 Protocol No. 16.
20 Zampetti, supra n. 9, p. 9.
21 High Level Conference on the Future of the European Court of Human Rights (Izmir), Declaration 26-27 April 2011, point D, ⟨www.echr.coe.int/Documents/2011_Izmir_FinalDeclaration_ENG.pdf⟩, visited 3 October 2019.
22 Zampetti, supra n. 9, p. 10.
23 Preamble to Protocol No. 16.
24 Zampetti, supra n. 9, p. 10.
25 Pursuant to Art. 8, stating that the Protocol would enter into force the first day of the month following the expiration of three months after the date on which 10 states have expressed their consent to be bound by it.
26 See for an in depth analysis Paprocka and Ziółkowski, supra n. 6, p. 277 ff.; Gerards, supra n. 10, p. 633-636.
27 Explanatory Report to Protocol No. 16, supra n. 18, p. 2.
28 Explanatory Report to Protocol No. 16, supra n. 18, p. 3; L.-A. Sicilianos, ‘L’élargissement de la compétence consultative de la Cour européenne des droits de l’homme – A propos du Protocole n° 16 à la Convention européenne des droits de l’homme’, 25 Rev. trim. Dr.h. (2014) p. 18-19.
29 Explanatory Report to Protocol No. 16, supra n. 18, p. 3.
30 ECtHR, Reflection Paper on the Proposal to extend the Court’s advisory jurisdiction, paras. 20, 22 and 30 ⟨www.echr.coe.int/Documents/2013_Courts_advisory_jurisdiction_ENG.pdf⟩, visited 3 October 2019.
31 Explanatory Report to Protocol No. 16, supra n. 18, p. 3; Sicilianos, supra n. 28, p. 18-19.
32 In this sense: Sicilianos, supra n. 28, p. 19-20.
33 Opinion of the Court on Draft Protocol No. 16 to the Convention extending its competence to give advisory opinions on the interpretation of the Convention, 6 May 2013, para. 7, ⟨www.echr.coe.int/Documents/2013_Protocol_16_Court_Opinion_ENG.pdf⟩, visited 3 October 2019.
34 Arts. 1, 3. In the meantime, the Court has specified what information it should receive: see ‘Guidelines on the implementation of the advisory-opinion procedure introduced by Protocol No. 16 to the Convention’ (approved by the Plenary Court on 18 September 2017) p. 4-5, para. 12, ⟨www.echr.coe.int/Documents/Guidelines_P16_ENG.pdf⟩, visited 3 October 2019.
35 Art. 2, 3rd para. Protocol No. 16.
36 ECtHR, supra n. 30, p. 9, para. 39.
37 Guidelines on the implementation of the advisory-opinion procedure introduced by Protocol No. 16 to the Convention’ (approved by the Plenary Court on 18 September 2017), supra n. 34, p. 7, para. 29.
38 I thank the anonymous peer reviewer for raising this point.
39 Malecki, M., ‘Do ECJ Judges All Speak with the Same Voice? Evidence of Divergent Preferences from the Judgments of Chambers’, 19 Journal of European Public Policy (2012) p. 59 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Frankenreiter, J., ‘The Politics of Citations at the ECJ – Policy Preferences of E.U. Member State Governments and the Citation Behavior of Judges at the European Court of Justice’, 14 Journal of Empirical Legal Studies (2017) p. 813 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Frankenreiter, J., ‘Are Advocates General Political? An Empirical Analysis of the Voting Behavior of the Advocates General at the European Court of Justice’, 14 Review of Law & Economics (2018) p. 1.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
40 Voeten, E., ‘The Politics of International Judicial Appointments: Evidence from the European Court of Human Rights’, 61 International Organization (2007) p. 669 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Voeten, E., ‘The Impartiality of International Judges: Evidence from the European Court of Human Rights’, 102 The American Political Science Review (2008) p. 417 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Stiansen and Voeten, supra n. 4.
42 Hix, S., ‘Dimensions and Alignments in European Union Politics: Cognitive Constraints and Partisan Responses’, 35 European Journal of Political Research (1999) p. 69 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Hartley, T.C., The Foundations of European Union Law: An Introduction to the Constitutional and Administrative Law of the European Union, 7th ed (Oxford University Press 2010) p. 72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
43 Ibid.; Garry, J. and Tilley, J., ‘Inequality, State Ownership and the European Union: How Economic Context and Economic Ideology Shape Support for the European Union’, 16 European Union Politics (2015) p. 139 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; van Elsas, E. and van der Brug, W., ‘The Changing Relationship between Left-Right Ideology and Euroscepticism, 1973–2010’, 16 European Union Politics (2015) p. 194 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; McElroy, G. and Benoit, K., ‘Policy Positioning in the European Parliament’, 13 European Union Politics (2012) p. 150.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
44 I thank Dr. Wessel Wijtvliet for the ideas, the references and the wording of this paragraph. The issue itself deserves a more comprehensive discussion in a separate article.
45 In this respect, reference can also be made to ECJ 13 June 2014, View AG Kokott, Opinion Procedure 2/13, para. 167, ECLI:EU:C:2014:2475, where the AG Kokott stresses that in most cases there is convergence between the case law of Strasbourg and Luxembourg. However, she does not exclude that there might be divergences; Garlicki, L., ‘Cooperation of Courts: The Role of Supranational Jurisdictions in Europe Constitutionalism’, 6 International Journal of Constitutional Law (2008) p. 511.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
47 Callewaert, J., ‘The European Convention on Human Rights and European Union Law: a Long Way to Harmony’, European Human Rights Law Rev. (2009) p. 774.Google Scholar
49 ECtHR (GC) 7 February 2002, Nos. 40660/08 and 60641/08, Von Hannover (No. 2) v Germany, ECLI:CE:ECHR:2012:0207JUD004066008.
50 ECtHR (GC) 7 February 2002, No. 39954/08, Axel Springer v Germany, ECLI:CE:ECHR:2012:0207JUD003995408.
51 ECJ (GC) 26 February 2013, Case C-399/11, Stefano Melloni v Ministerio Fiscal, ECLI:EU:C:2013:107.
52 Fabbrini, supra n. 46, p. 40.
53 Kuijer, M., ‘The challenging relationship between the European Convention on Human Rights and the EU legal order: consequences of a delayed accession’, International Journal of Human Rights (2018), DOI: 10.1080/13642987.2018.1535433, p. 6.Google Scholar
54 S. Peers, ‘The CJEU and the EU’s accession to the ECHR: a clear and present danger to human rights protection, EU Law Analysis, 18 December 2014, ⟨eulawanalysis.blogspot.com/2014/12/the-cjeu-and-eus-accession-to-echr.html⟩, visited 3 October 2019.
55 Registrar ECtHR, ‘Grand Chamber Panel accepts first request for an advisory opinion under Protocol 16’, 4 December 2018, ⟨hudoc.echr.coe.int/app/conversion/pdf?library=ECHR&id=003-6269064-8165703&filename=Grand%20Chamber%20Panel%20accepts%20first%20request%20for%20an%20advisory%20opinion%20under%20Protocole%2016.pdf⟩, visited 3 October 2019.
56 On a side note, it occurs to me that there is an issue with Art. 14 ECHR (equality and non-discrimination) as well.
57 ECtHR (GC) 10 April 2019, request P16-2018-001.
58 Explanatory Report to Protocol No. 16, supra n. 18, p. 6, para. 27.
59 Gerards, supra n. 10, p. 636-635.
60 ECtHR, supra n. 30, p. 10, para. 44.
61 Gerards, supra n. 10, p. 636.
62 Sicilianos, supra n. 28, p. 26.
63 For the argument, see Schaiko, G. et al., ‘Belgium’, in Gerards, J. and Fleuren, J. (eds.), Implementation of the European Convention on Human Rights and of the Judgments of the ECtHR in National Case-Law (Intersentia 2014) p. 104.Google Scholar In fact, the argument goes that since the judgment is the interpretation of the international norm, the case law is considered to be the norm itself. As Belgium is bound by the norm, it also bound therefore by the case law; Wouters, J. and Van Eeckhoutte, D., ‘Doorwerking van internationaal recht in de Belgische rechtsorde: een overzicht van bronnen en instrumenten’, in Wouters, J. and Van Eeckhoutte, D. (eds.), Doorwerking van internationaal recht in de Belgische rechtsorde [Effects of International Law in the Belgian Legal Order] (Intersentia 2006) p. 24.Google Scholar
64 Sicilianos, supra n. 28, p. 26.
65 Along the same lines: Gerards, supra n. 10, p. 636.
66 Sicilianos, supra n. 28, p. 27.
67 Explanatory Report to Protocol No. 16, supra n. 18, p. 6, para. 26.
68 Reflection Paper on the Proposal to extend the Court’s advisory jurisdiction, supra n. 30, p. 4, paras. 14–16.
69 On this, in more detail, see Dzehtsiarou and O’Meara, supra n. 10, p. 457-462.
70 Sicilianos, supra n. 28, p. 22.
71 Sicilianos, supra n. 28, p. 27.
72 ECtHR 2 October 2014, No. 32191/09, Adefdromil v France, para. 65, ECLI:CE:ECHR:2014:1002JUD003219109; ECtHR 9 November 2006, No. 65411/01, Sacilor Lormines v France, paras. 71-74, ECLI:CE:ECHR:2006:1109JUD006541101; ECtHR (GC) 6 May 2003, Nos. 39343/98, 39651/98, 43147/98 and 46664/99, Kleyn and Others v the Netherlands, paras. 193-200, ECLI:CE:ECHR:2003:0506JUD003934398.
73 In practice, however, Section Presidents are considered to have recused themselves.
74 Zampetti, supra n. 9, p. 14 ff. The literature on Opinion 2/13 is abundant. Amongst others, see Baratta, R., ‘Accession of the EU to the ECHR: the rationale for the ECJ’s prior involvement mechanism’, 50 CML Rev. (2013) p. 1305–1332.Google Scholar See the special section of the 16 German Law Journal (2015); Lock, T., ‘The future of the European Union’s accession to the European Convention on Human Rights after Opinion 2/13: is it still possible and is it still desirable?’, 11 EuConst (2015) p. 239.Google Scholar
75 AG Kokott, supra n. 45, para. 139, ECLI:EU:C:2014:2475.
76 ECJ 6 October 1982, Case 283/81, Cilfit v Ministery of Health and Lanificio di Gavardo, ECLI:EU:C:1982:335 in which the ECJ held that no request for preliminary ruling should be brought before the ECJ where there is already a judgment on the question (acte éclairé) or where there is no reasonable doubt as to the meaning of an act (acte clair).
77 AG Kokott, supra n. 45, para. 141, ECLI:EU:C:2014:2475.
78 ECtHR (GC) 30 June 2005, No. 45036/98, Bosphorus Hava Yolları Turizm ve Ticaret Anonim Şirketi v Ireland, paras. 155-156, ECLI:CE:ECHR:2005:0630JUD004503698.
79 Obviously, this may be somewhat different once the EU has become party to the ECHR. If ever. On this, see Zampetti, supra n. 9, p. 16 ff (in particular 17).
80 This is not to say that I subscribe to this solution: in terms of purely legal reasoning, I am not convinced by this approach (I fail to understand why that presumption would be valid vis-à-vis one legal order, the EU, but not vis-à-vis the national legal orders). But I recognise that, from a diplomatic perspective, the Strasbourg Court has skilfully avoided conflict with Luxembourg.
81 For instance ECtHR (GC) 23 May 2016, No. 17502/07, Avotiņš v Latvia, ECLI:CE:ECHR:2016:0523JUD001750207.
82 Bossuyt, M. and Verrijdt, W., ‘The Full Effect of EU law and of Constitutional Review in Belgium and France after the Melki Judgment’, 7 EuConst (2011) p. 368 Google Scholar, dealing with the order of constitutional review (via preliminary ruling) and treaty review, clearly indicate that although both forms of review can take place simultaneously or sequentially, the parallel exercise of review is the least preferable option.
83 Popelier, P. and Lemmens, K., The Constitution of Belgium. A Contextual Analysis (Hart Publishing 2015) p. 247–248.Google Scholar
84 E.g. Const. Court, case 162/2004, 20 October 2004, para. B.2.4.; Const. Court, case 16/2005, 19 January 2005, para. B.2.3.; Const. Court, case 43/2019, 14 March 2019, para. B.3.2.
85 ECJ (GC) 22 June 2010, Case C-188/10 and C-189/10, Melki and Abdeli, ECLI:EU:C:2010:363.
86 Alen, A. and Muylle, K., Handboek van het Belgisch Staatsrecht [Manual of Belgian Constitutional Law] (Kluwer 2011) p. 744 Google Scholar; ECJ (GC) 22 June 2010, Case C-188/10 and C-189/10, Melki and Abdeli, para. 56, ECLI:EU:C:2010:363.
87 And, obviously, a highest Court is – under Art 267 TFEU – not free to decide to not refer to the ECJ, except when the question is not relevant or in case of an acte clair or acte éclairé.
88 Since this article was written, a second request has been formulated by the Armenian Constitutional Court.
89 Zampetti, supra n. 9, p. 28.