France and the European Court of Human Rights
The Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (hereinafter “the European Convention on Human Rights”) was drafted in the Council of Europe. It was opened for signature in Rome on 4 November 1950 and entered into force in September 1953. It was ratified by France on 3 May 1974 and France approved the right of individual application in 1981.
The European Court of Human Rights, which is headquartered in Strasbourg, is composed of 47 judges (1 judge elected by each State party to the European Convention on Human Rights). The President of the Court is currently Guido Raimondi, a judge elected on behalf of Italy. He will be replaced on 5 May 2019 by Linos-Alexandre Sicilianos, a judge elected on behalf of Greece. The French judge, André Potocki, who was a magistrate at the Court of Cassation from 2005 to 2011 took up office on 4 November 2011 for a nine-year non-renewable term of office. His term will end on 21 June 2020, when he reaches the age limit set by the Convention for serving as a judge. The next French judge to the European Court of Human Rights will be elected by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe from a list of three candidates presented by France.
When the European Court of Human Rights rules that there has been a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights, this has real practical consequences. The involved States must take measures to comply with such judgments as they are enforceable under Article 46 of the Convention.
The European Court of Human Rights has to deal with a significant number of applications. It had 151,600 pending applications as at 31 December 2011. Following major reforms (notably with the adoption of Protocol No. 11 in 1994 which overhauled the monitoring mechanism established by the Convention by establishing a single permanent Court, and Protocol No. 14 in 2004 which optimized the handling of repeat or clearly inadmissible cases by establishing a single-judge formation), the number of applications dropped to 64,850 as at 31 December 2015 then 56,350 at 31 December 2018. It is, however, important to remain vigilant and reviews are being carried out to ensure the long-term future of the Convention system.
Currently, four States account for 60% of the 56,350 pending cases (Russia, Romania, Ukraine and Turkey). On the other hand, France accounts for a very small percentage of applications to the European Court of Human Rights. As of 31 December 2018, 434 applications regarding France were pending before a judicial formation, i.e. 0.8% of all pending applications.
In 2018, the Court delivered 16 judgments regarding France, of which 8 noted one or more breaches of the European Convention on Human Rights. In 2018, rulings against France accounted for 0.90% of rulings handed down by the Court. These figures are proof of a downward trend in breach judgments which began several years ago. In 2018, the European Court of Human Rights also handed down 25 decisions regarding France declaring applications inadmissible and 9 decisions to strike out applications (where further review of the application was no longer justified generally because the applicant no longer intended to continue the application or the case was resolved).
France’s good statistics illustrate the fact that, after undertaking legislative reforms to resolve certain “structural” problems that had created a large number of applications in the past (notably with regard to Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights and judgment timeframes), it is no longer a source of a large number of repeat applications.
France actively participates in reviewing the longer-term future of the Convention system, notably within the framework of the Brussels Conference in May 2015, which reaffirmed the importance of the individual right of application and the principle of subsidiarity and focused on the shared responsibility of Member States, the European Court of Human Rights and the Committee of Ministers in implementing the Convention.
More recently, within the framework of the Copenhagen Conference in May 2018, France worked to reaffirm commitment to the Convention system at a time when certain States were calling it into question. In addition, as part of work of the Human Rights Steering Committee (made up of experts from 47 Member States of the Council of Europe who conduct, under the aegis of the Committee of Ministers, intergovernmental work in the area of human rights), France is particularly involved in reforming the Court, especially when it comes to the status of the Convention in the European and international legal framework. France also actively takes part in work to improve the protection of social rights in Europe and to reconcile the freedom of expression with other rights and freedoms, particularly in culturally diverse societies, as well as in work on human rights issues specifically related to migration.
Lastly, from 17 May to 27 November 2019, France will hold the Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. France wants to take the opportunity offered by its Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers to help build tomorrow’s Council of Europe. One of France’s objectives will be to strengthen the European human rights system. With this in mind, it will hold a conference for the supreme courts of Council of Europe Member States on 12 and 13 September 2019 and a conference for justice ministers on 14 and 15 October 2019.
Updated: April 2019