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Domestic Judges and the European Court of Human Rights: Conflict or Consensus?

On 31 March, Basak presented the findings of research on the perceptions of the authority of the European Court of Human Right amongst apex court judges to an audience of legal and policy practitioners and academics at an event hosted by the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law .

Basak’s talk set out some of the key findings arising from analysis of the interviews conducted with domestic apex court judges, and the argumentative strategies they employ to make sense of their relationship with the European Court of Human Rights.  In particular, Basak explained three original findings of the research:

1) domestic judges approach the European Court of Human Rights as a form of hybrid authority drawing from notions both of legal pedigree and persuasiveness

2) domestic judges have distinct doctrinal attitudes towards the authority of the European Court of Human Rights

3) ‘Qualified internationalism’ is the most shared doctrinal attitude across the five jurisdictions where the research was conducted.

Following the presentation, a panel chaired by Prof. Jeffrey Jowell QC and composed of

  • Judge Giorgio Malinverni (European Court of Human Rights);
  • Lord Hope (UK Supreme Court Justice);
  • Judge Olivier Dutheillet de Lamothe, (Conseil d’Etat); and
  • Judge Peter Paczolay, (President of the HungarianConstitutional Court)

reacted to the findings of the research.  The discussion was lively, good-humoured, and entertaining, bringing out a number of points of agreement and also some tensions between international and domestic legal obligations.

Lord Hope kicked off the discussion by agreeing that the UK Supreme Court is composed of qualified internationalists, illustrating this by going through a series of important cases.  However, he doubted how wide spread qualified internationalism is within other High Courts, especially those in Scotland.

Judge Malinverni indicated that he was suprised by how many domestic judges did not emphasise  the importance of international obligations as grounding the authority of the European Court of Human Rights.  He further defended the priority of the  Article 46 of the Convention in setting any argumentative framework making sense of the relationship between apex domestic courts and the Strasbourg Court.

Judge  Peter Paczolay spoke about the initial disappointment in Hungary about the Strasbourg Court in the aftermath of the ‘sliding scale of protections doctrine’  in transitional democracies spelled out by the Strasbourg Court after the Rekvenyi case (1999).

Judge Olivier Dutheillet de Lamothe emphasized the different approaches of the French and UK domestic courts and governments to the implementation of the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights. He concluded that the UK Apex Courts were better than French ones in following the case law of Strasbourg, despite the fact that France has accepted more formal obligations to follow Strasbourg under the Constitution than the UK did under the Human Rights Act.

For a summary of the findings of the research, click here.

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