Government and Senate reach agreement on independent European Court of Human Rights

14 March 2012

Government and Senate reach agreement on independent European Court of Human Rights

The Dutch government has stated that it supports ‘with complete conviction’ the position and the work of the European Court of Human Rights and does not want to see the Court’s independence undermined. SP Senator Tiny Kox is pleased that the government has dispelled doubts over its stance on the future of the Strasbourg Court, where 150,000 cases of alleged breaches of human rights in Europe are currently waiting to be heard.

Negotiations will shortly resume between the forty-seven member states of the Council of Europe over the future of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and its enforcing body, the European Court of Human Rights. Initial reports regarding the Dutch government’s position caused a furore in Parliament and amongst the judicial establishment and human rights organisations. The government last year proposed the creation of a registrar for complainants, fines for those who brought complaints without good cause, and sanctions for lawyers who turned too readily to ‘Strasbourg’. In addition they wanted to make it obligatory for complainants to have legal representation, and proposed amendments to the text of the ECHR, including by the addition of a passage stating that member states would be allowed broad scope for the interpretation of a verdict of the Court. This created a widespread impression that the government wished to infringe the Strasbourg Court’s independence by increasing interference from the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers, in which all forty-seven member states are represented.

On Tuesday a large majority in the Senate made it clear that they were not prepared to accept such a negotiating stance on the part of the government. At the end of the debate Tiny Kox, SP leader in the Senate summarised what he had gathered from the lengthy exchange of views as follows: “The government of the Netherlands now supports with complete conviction the ECHR and an independent Human Rights Court that has the last word, even if the verdict goes against our country. There will be no registrar and no fines for complainants or lawyers, nor any compulsory trial representation. The Netherlands no longer wishes to determine the ‘margin of appreciation’ in the ECHR’s text. Such space for interpretation is already, after all, granted by the Court. The government is going to look into how it might help the Court to deal more rapidly with the huge backlog of cases and put pressure on a number of countries to increase their contribution to the Court’s costs. Foreign Minister Rosenthal and Justice Minister Opstelten will personally seek to create a more active role for the Committee of Ministers in preventing complaints to the Court by improving national legislation and the implementation of the Strasbourg Court’s rulings by states which have been ruled against.”

In order to avoid any uncertainty, all political groups with the exception of the right-wing PVV lodged a motion in which each confirmed once more this position and urged a rapid accession of the European Union to the ECHR. Although all twenty-seven EU member states are parties to the Convention, the EU itself is not. The Lisbon Treaty gave the EU ‘legal personality’, making it possible for it to sign the ECHR in its own right, a step to which the Treaty committed it. This decision still awaits implementation.

The ministers accepted the motion in advance, although it will not be confirmed by official vote until the Senate meets again on Tuesday of next week.

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