Conference Best Practices of Individual Complaint to the Constitutional Courts in Europe

Strasbourg , 

• It is a great pleasure for me to open this high-level conference dedicated to the best practices of individual complaint to the Constitutional Courts in Europe. This is a topic of great significance for the system of the European Convention on Human Rights.

• The long-term effectiveness of the Human Rights Convention system depends, on one hand, on the Court’s capacity to deal rapidly with the cases brought before it and, on the other hand, on the capacity of the member States to address possible violations effectively.

• The full implementation of Protocol no.14 clearly contributed to an improvement of the Court’s capacity to deal with its case-load but the issue of effective domestic protection is clearly linked to the existence of domestic remedies. Such remedies are an essential pre-condition for an effective human rights policy.

• For this reason, I consider it to be a top political priority for the organisation to ensure that all member States establish, through appropriate legislation, effective domestic remedies, assuming their responsibility for implementing their human rights obligations at the national level, in accordance with the Convention requirements and the principle of subsidiarity.

• Indeed, the Convention mechanism is not there to resolve issues in the first instance, nor to impose a particular choice of means when it comes to remedying a particular human rights violation. The Convention actually relies on the domestic systems' capacities to tackle these issues rapidly and effectively at their source.

• The Council of Europe supports the member States in this endeavor in many ways. During the past years, it has developed co-operation activities funded by both the ordinary budget and various extra-budgetary sources. Today’s conference is a good example of such activities. It is organized in the framework of the project on “Supporting the Individual Application to the Constitutional Court in Turkey”. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of our donors, including those States who support the co-operation activities through voluntary contributions, the Human Rights Trust Fund and the European Union.

• Our Organisation acts on the basis of an operational triangle: We set common standards for all member States, we monitor their implementation and we offer co-operation whenever we can support the efforts of our member States to comply with these standards. In the field of human rights this is achieved through a comprehensive approach, including both legislative expertise and capacity development. Indeed, the necessary precondition for achieving an effective implementation of human rights at the national level is that those responsible for it - judges, prosecutors and lawyers, as well as law-enforcement officers - are not only familiar with European human rights standards but are also able to apply them on a day-to-day basis in specific situations. The Council of Europe, through the European Programme for Human Rights Education for Legal Professionals (the HELP Programme) ensures that human rights training throughout the European space is of good quality and meets the specific needs of legal professionals.

• Ownership and sustainability are key elements of the co-operation activities of the Council of Europe. This is why we adopt a country-specific approach, and develop a constant dialogue with the authorities from the initial preparation of a project right through until its final evaluation. The best solutions adapted to each country are proposed, with no single model to be imposed.

• The long-standing fruitful co-operation between the Council of Europe and Turkey is, in this regard, an excellent example. For the last ten years, a number of CoE/EU Joint Programmes and projects supported by the Human Rights Trust Fund have been implemented and have contributed to significant reforms.

• Since 2010, we have been working closely with the Turkish Constitutional Court to establish an individual application mechanism. International expertise has been provided; round tables, seminars, study visits and placements in the European Court of Human Rights for judges from the Constitutional Court have been organised. I believe that together we have achieved very good results and I would like to express my gratitude to the President of the Constitutional Court, Mr Kılıç, for his trust in the Council of Europe and for his personal efforts and involvement in establishing this new mechanism.

• As a result, the Constitutional Court is now entrusted with powers that enable it to provide direct and speedy redress for violations of the rights and freedoms. And I am happy to see that the Constitutional Court is fully able to endorse its new responsibilities. A significant human rights case-law has been developed since September 2012 by the Court covering issues such as lengthy detention periods, the right to property, freedom of expression and the right to a fair trial.

• President Gül’s most recent interview touched upon the issue of confidence in the Constitutional Court:  “The Court is implementing universal law [and follows] the practices of the European Court of Human Rights” he said, stressing the importance of the right to direct individual application. He underlined that the Constitutional Court has proved that it is a court of the highest caliber.     

• While noting these positive developments, one should not forget that protecting human rights and the rule of law is a continuous and never ending task. While I cannot ignore the recent legislative changes in Turkey which gave rise to concerns as to the proper respect for judicial independence, I am confident that the authorities will build on the recent success of the Turkish Constitutional Court to strengthen the independence of the whole judiciary. This applies not only to the nation’s Highest Courts but also to first instance courts. The Council of Europe standards, as enshrined in particular in the European Convention on Human Rights, are not only the values upon which democracy is based, they are also valuable tools to strengthen the judiciary and its independence and to enhance and maintain the people’s confidence in their judicial system. 

• I will close by saying that you, as representatives of the highest level of the judiciary in your countries, have a key role to play in this regard. I invite you to use the opportunity of today’s conference not only to share best practices from your countries, but also to discuss common difficulties and possible solutions. This event offers you the possibility of initiating contact with peers, to be further developed when you get back home. Exchanging opinions and examining others’ practices can help us to move forward and to go even further. The Council of Europe is of course ready to continue to support you in this process.

I wish you a fruitful discussion.