The European Court of Human Rights and its Discontents
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The European Court of Human Rights and its Discontents

Turning Criticism into Strength

Edited by Spyridon Flogaitis, Tom Zwart and Julie Fraser

The European Court of Human Rights has long been part of the most advanced human rights regime in the world. However, the Court has increasingly drawn criticism, with questions raised about its legitimacy and backlog of cases. This book for the first time brings together the critics of the Court and its proponents to debate these issues. The result is a collection which reflects balanced perspectives on the Court’s successes and challenges.
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Chapter 2: Criticism and case-overload: Comments on the future of the European Court of Human Rights

Turning Criticism into Strength

Luzius Wildhaber


Given the increase of size, dimension and impact of the parameters of the European Convention on Human Rights (‘ECHR’), the Convention system was bound to be confronted with an increase of criticism, too. As The Economist put it, in its inimitable style, the Strasbourg Court ‘annoy(s) most national politicians some of the time and infuriate(s) some most of the time’. In a recent speech, the former European Court of Human Rights (‘ECtHR’) President Jean-Paul Costa indicated a few reasons for the growing criticism. President Costa referred to terrorism and security concerns; the wide-spread economic and financial crisis and its effect of giving priority to economic policies; the growing influence of populist movements; the unpopularity of criminals, prisoners, immigrants, vagrants or minorities who are allegedly overprotected by the ECtHR;as well as Euroscepticism and a longing for greater sovereignty. Without further elaboration, this chapter categorises the reproaches to the Court and proceeds to discuss them in the spirit of the saying that institutions and states will perish, if those who love them do not criticise them and if those who criticise them do not love them. Criticism against the Convention system and the Strasbourg Court has been expressed inter alia with respect to the perception of exaggerated judicial activism, neglect of the system’s subsidiarity principle and the perception of an underlying human rights-centralism, which, it is alleged, is not necessary in a democratic society.

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