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Council of Europe; Norway: Signing of Protocol to European Convention on Human Rights

(July 15, 2013) On June 25, 2013, Norway signed Protocol 15 Amending the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europoe (COE) adopted the Protocol on May 16, 2013. (Catherine Shakdam, Strengthening the European Court of Human Rights, OSLO TIMES (June 26, 2013); Protocol No. 15 Amending the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (May 16, 2013), COE website; Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms as Amended by Protocols No. 11 and No. 14 [hereinafter Convention], COE website (last visited July 9, 2013).)

On June 24, the date on which Protocol No. 15 opened for signature, 19 countries signed it. All 47 Member States of the COE must ratify the Protocol before it can enter into force. (Press Release, Romania Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Romania Has Signed Protocol 15 to the European Convention on Human Rights (June 24, 2013).)

The significance of the Protocol, according to Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs Espen Barth Eide, is that it “may lead to faster processing of important human rights cases” at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, which was set up under the Convention in 1959. (Shakdam, supra.) To this end, one key amendment “will make easier for the court to reject cases that are of little significance” (i.e., where the individual has not suffered significant disadvantage to his or her human rights). (Shakdam, supra.) This amendment affects article 35 of the Convention, on admissibility criteria, by removing one of the exceptions to the inadmissibility of an application on grounds that the applicant has not suffered a significant disadvantage, that exception being if the application has not been duly considered by a domestic tribunal. (Adoption of Protocol No. 15 Amending the European Convention on Human Rights, COE website (last visited July 8, 2013); Convention, art. 35 ¶ 3 (1b), supra.)

Other amendments to the Convention included in Protocol 15 are:

  • shortening of the time limit within which an application must be made to the Court, from six months to four;
  • removing the parties’ right to object to relinquishment of jurisdiction over their case by a Court chamber in favor of the Grand Chamber;
  • replacing the upper age limit for judges with a requirement that candidates for the post of judge be under 65 years of age on the date by which the candidate list has been requested by the Parliamentary Assembly; and
  • adding a reference to the principle of subsidiarity (the notion that the state itself should democratically decide what is appropriate for itself) and the doctrine of the margin of appreciation (the space for maneuver granted to nationalities in fulfilling their Convention obligations) to the Preamble of the Convention (Adoption of Protocol No. 15 Amending the European Convention on Human Rights, supra; The Margin of Appreciation, COE website (last visited July 12, 2013).)

The Court “rules on individual or State applications alleging violations of the civil and political rights set out” in the Convention, and “[s]ince 1998 it has sat as a full-time court and individuals can apply to it directly.” (The Court in Brief (last visited July 12, 2013).) There are at present 47 judges on the Court; their number is designed to correspond to that of the States Parties to the Convention. ([Question] 6 What Is the Court’s Composition?, THE EHCR IN 50 QUESTIONS (July 2012).) The Court has been struggling over the years with a heavy caseload and a considerable backlog; as of the end of May, more than 116,000 cases were reportedly pending. (Shakdam, supra.)

“Norway has long played an active part in the reform process to strengthen the court,” Eide noted, and “Protocol No. 15 is a step in the right direction.” He added that the Norwegian government “will continue … to promote additional reforms and to ensure that the resources available to the court are increased and that the national implementation of human rights obligations is improved.” (Id.)