Speech by Christos Giakoumopoulos at the Superior Courts Network Forum
Superior Courts Network Forum
10 June 2022
President of the European Court of Human Rights,
Distinguished Members of the Superior Courts Network,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is my privilege to address you today, in the Superior Courts Network Forum.
For the last five years, you gather at this annual event to mark your joint progress within the Convention system, discuss our common achievements and common challenges. In the last year, the pandemic kept putting a strain not only on our daily lives, but also on the operation of legal and judicial systems across Europe. The national authorities demonstrated resilience in their commitment to the respect for the rule of law and human rights, creativity with the use of new digital tools in the work of public administration and judiciary, and ability to adapt to the rapid and unpredictable changes in circumstances.
It seemed that life was getting back to normal. However, the events unravelling in Ukraine over the last several months had changed that perception. They are an unprecedented trial – first and foremost for Ukraine of course, but also for the peoples of Europe, the member states, and our Organisation, the Council of Europe.
In these times of trouble, we should keep in mind that the Council of Europe and the European Convention were created as the forum for common action of the Member States, and the unifying standard of our values focused on human rights and dignity. The ideas of unity and cooperation are truly at the very heart of the Convention system.
This system is based on the delicate balance between its national and European components.[i] It functions successfully only if all involved actors share a common vision, pledge their best effort to work jointly and “in sync”, and are open to dialogue, inventive and intelligent reconciliation of positions and cooperation. As the Steering Committee for Human Rights has stated, the functioning of the Convention system is contingent on “the quality, cogency and coherence of the Court’s judgments and the ensuing acceptance thereof by all actors of the system, including governments, parliaments, national courts, applicants and the public at large”[ii].
National authorities and, notably, the courts are the key Convention actors as any human rights issue goes first to them before reaching Strasbourg. That is why dialogue between judges is the core driving force of the Convention and this Superior Courts Network is instrumental in supporting that dialogue.
The entry into force of Protocol 15 to the Convention reinforces this approach.
One year ago, at the previous Forum, I have cited President Spanó’s words that “national judges are Strasbourg judges”. He said today that the European Court of Human Rights is not a foreign court. This is the essence of the principle of subsidiarity. However, for this principle to function fully, the national judges must be well-equipped: they need to have the tools, the knowledge, the support and the institutional memories readily available when they have to weigh the arguments of a case.
To this end, a number of measures – also known as cooperation programmes and projects – are undertaken jointly by the Council of Europe and the national authorities of one or more Member State.
Last year, I had already touched upon an initiative designed jointly by the Court and the Directorate General of Human Rights and the Rule of Law, namely the Programme called “Enhancing Subsidiarity: Support to ECHR Knowledge-Sharing and Superior Courts Dialogue”. It was in planning stages then. Right now, it is moving into the implementation phase with the first steps happening already before the end of this year. This was among others made possible by a voluntary contribution from France – and I hope others will follow.
In this Programme, the Court’s know-how is combined with DGI rich experience in successfully implementing cooperation projects at the national level. It aims at better bringing knowledge on the Strasbourg Court’s case-law to national judges.
Another initiative worth mentioning is a new cooperation project called “Fostering Transparency of Judicial Decisions and Enhancing National Implementation”, which unfolds now in parallel and in coordination across several Member States. It aims to boost national case-law transparency and accessibility, enhance consistency of judicial decision-making and warrant alignment of the national jurisprudence with the human rights standards set by the European Court.
What makes and will make these and other cooperation projects a success is the substantive expertise of the Court’s Judges and Registry, the input of well-recognised Council of Europe experts, the acute attention to the national contexts and legal traditions, and above all the partnership with the national authorities, recognition of their leadership and dialogue, which turn any initiative into true cooperation. Your discussions today are precisely an integral part of this partnership and co-operation. They materialize the genuine dialogues which ensures the viability, impact and relevance of the Convention system.
I am convinced that this exchange will be engaging and productive. I thank you for your attention and I wish you an excellent day!
[iiii] L’avenir à plus long terme du système de la Convention européenne des droits de l’homme. Rapport du Comité directeur pour les droits de l’homme (CDDH) adopté le 11 décembre 2015, Conseil de l’Europe, 2016, §§ 96 and 195 ii).