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 3: The European Court of Human Rights and its ever-growing caseload: Preserving the mission of the Court while ensuring the viability of the individual petition system

Turning Criticism into Strength

Paul Mahoney


One traditional weakness of the international system of human rights protection set up under the European Convention on Human Rights (‘ECHR’) has been the regrettable inability of the European Court of Human Rights to process all cases in a timely manner. In a leading article commenting on the judgment delivered by the Court in a British case concerning the extradition to the USA of several alleged international terrorists, The Telegraph – a right-leaning but serious British newspaper – spoke of ‘the staggering inefficiency of the Court’, which ‘dispenses justice at glacial speed’. No one is immune from criticism, including judges and courts. However, the conclusion on the individual petition system reached by the working group of the European Law Institute was that, while there is indeed a problem of case-overload, it is essentially a structural problem for which no substantial blame can be laid at the door of the Court. On the contrary, since it was established in November 1998, the single, permanent Court has constantly achieved remarkable productivity gains through innovative application of the ECHR’s procedural provisions and through ingenious re-organisation of procedures and internal working methods. The dizzying figures that are cited in connection with the Court’s caseload are well known: 140,000 applications pending in September 2012; 64,500 incoming applications allocated to a judgment formation in 2011 as against the lower but still impressive figure of 52,000 applications decided. And until 2012 the number of fresh applications lodged had been increasing every year. The consequences of the imbalance

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