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CEPEJ/ECHR interaction over failure to respect the reasonable time requirement

By the end of 2007, the Court had already found over 10,350 breaches of the Convention, sometimes several in the same judgment. In over 50% of cases, these were violations of Article 6 of the Convention (Right to a fair trial). In 30% of cases, these violations were due to the length of the proceedings at issue.

Of course, not all States are equally concerned by this thorny problem - thorny because it is difficult to resolve from the inside, as some reforms may be unpopular or affect the allocation of budgets among ministries or courts. It is also difficult to solve from the outside when the country does not call on the services of the CEPEJ - and because each country has its own shortcomings, for reasons often stemming from its history.

But is it reasonable to force the Court to rule hundreds of times against the same country for the same reasons? How many violations of Article 6 must the Court find for the States concerned to agree to call on the CEPEJ ? Should consideration not be given to the possibility of urging a State to call on the CEPEJ for help when it has exceeded a certain number of similar violations?

It is for this reason that tribute should be paid to the countries - and they are all too few - that have displayed great open-mindedness by calling on the expertise of the CEPEJ. It is surely not easy to agree to this kind of audit, but it is often when one tries to explain to people who are foreign (to a field or country) the reasons for the existence of certain procedures that one puts a finger on the small faults in the system that, together, build up serious problems. The pooling of ideas and existing practices and the proposals put forward by the Commission's experts may prompt new debate at national level and make it easier to have certain reforms accepted.

No doubt for budgetary reasons, there are some countries that give the impression that they are seeking to introduce the minimum reform that would be acceptable to the Court, while knowing from the outset that this will not be a truly radical solution to the problems facing people who go to court. Should the potential cost of cases dealing with the length of proceedings for the various countries (at national level for those that have introduced a domestic remedy and/or at international level) and the cost of reforms that have proved fruitless not be evaluated and compared with the cost of what might initially be a more radical and expensive change but would, in the long term, provide a real means of ensuring the efficiency of the courts? Just as the head of a company must be capable of investing in new means of production in order to remain competitive, a State must be capable of investing in Justice in order to make savings in the long term and restore the public confidence that this noble institution merits.

It is often said that the Court is a victim of its success. But if States do not use all the services the Council of Europe places at their disposal in order to find solutions to their problems, they contribute to the Court's backlog. It was the States that made it possible to set up the very dynamic and promising Commission for the Efficiency of Justice: would it not be reasonable to take advantage of the availability of this expert body by calling on it more often?

Paola Tonarelli-Lacore
Head of Division in the Court Registry