Seminar on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the single European Court of Human Rights

Strasbourg , 

Check against delivery

Ladies and gentlemen,

Earlier this month, at the invitation of President Macron, I joined with heads of states, governments and international organisations in Paris to commemorate the centenary of the end of the First World War.

Those of us who took part in the Paris Peace Forum were asked to contribute a book of our choice to a “Peace Library” – and my choice was a copy of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Because that Convention – the Convention system – is a unique, continent-wide, collective system that guarantees in law the fundamental rights set out, for the very first time, in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

A Declaration that is this year celebrating its own, 70th anniversary.

Our Organisation is built on the European Convention.

We are inspired by it, our work references it – and, of course, the European Court of Human Rights interprets it in reaching its decisions.

As President Macron said in Paris, in the wake of the First World War, nations were incapable of building a lasting peace precisely because of insufficient international co-operation.

It took another, even more terrible war, to compel the nations in question, and others, to build those institutions.

On our continent, the Council of Europe and the Strasbourg Court have been central to the new constellation:

Ensuring the freedom and dignity of every individual and building democratic peace within our borders.

Today, we are celebrating a milestone in that project: the 20th anniversary of the entry into force of Protocol 11 to the European Convention:

The protocol that established the new – and improved – European Court of Human Rights:

• Revamping the supervisory mechanism

• Replacing the initial two-tier structure with a single, full-time Court

• And enabling applicants to bring their cases directly – now one of the most distinctive and celebrated features of our system

But this is an opportunity not only to reflect on the impact of that reform, but also of the changes that followed suit, and where the Court is today:

What impact it is having on the lives of people across our common legal space and how individuals, authorities and NGOs perceive it.

Certainly, further reform came quickly – and continues.

The increased workload of the Court, and subsequent backlog of cases required that more be done.

Since 1998 the Committee of Ministers has adopted three additional protocols: 14, 15 and 16.

And, on my watch, the Interlaken process began in 2010, whereby a series of high-level conferences have addressed the problems facing the Court, and monitored progress in addressing them.

This was a personal priority for me and I am proud of the progress made so far as the Committee of Ministers prepares to take stock next year.

But it is only right to point to the remarkable contribution that the Court itself made to the reform process:

Altering its own working methods to increase efficiency through, for example, the adoption of its “pilot judgment procedure” and its “priority policy”.

A wide coalition of people came together to make that happen:

Judges, diplomats, government representatives, CDDH experts – and of course, Council of Europe staff.

We are grateful to all of them, but I want to pay particular tribute to five people who made an enormous contribution and who are here with us today:

The current President of the Court, Guido Raimondi and his predecessors, Dean Spielmann, Jean-Paul Costa, Sir Nicolas Bratza and Luzius Wildhaber.

To you, our special thanks.

But while that process of welcome reform continues, so too do challenges persist – and new ones emerge.

Too often member states’ laws and practices remain out of line with the European Convention; their legal remedies ineffective; and their authorities too slow to implement judgments from the Strasbourg Court.

And in recent years we have seen member states assert wrongly that domestic law can override European and international law, including the European Convention.

This is not right and,  most recently,  was the purpose of Switzerland’s “initiative on self-determination”, which was rejected by the Swiss people just yesterday. I welcome very much this outcome – it is a positive signal.

Ladies and gentlemen, 20 years after the creation of the single European Court of Human Rights, its machinery is reformed and improved, and its backlog of cases greatly reduced.

And we shall do everything to protect it – keeping in mind its most important features:

- Firstly, the right to individual petition;

- Secondly, the binding effect of the Court’s judgments;

- And thirdly, the “shared responsibility”, as spelled out in the 2015 Brussels Declaration, which means that all actors – the national authorities, the Court, the Committee of Ministers, the Secretariat – must take their share of the strain in defending and upholding the Convention system.

And this is crucial, – because I do not hesitate to say that without the Convention system and the Court, the Council of Europe would not be capable of fulfilling its role.

Ultimately, all of us must be clear about why we have this system: to foster – as the Council of Europe’s statute says – greater unity between our

members –

in the interests of peace, security and stability for 830 million Europeans. The Convention System  enables us to get closer to that goal. Let us continue working together with that aim firmly in mind.


Thank you.