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Strengthening the European Court of Human Rights: More Accountability Through Better Legal Reasoning

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Innovative approaches to improve human rights law in Europe

The European Court of Human Rights is entrusted with applying procedural justice in human rights adjudication. An EU initiative aimed at further strengthening its legitimacy.

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The Strasbourg court monitors respect for the human rights of about 800 million citizens in the 47 Council of Europe member states that have ratified the European Convention on Human Rights. In this context, the EU-funded ECHR (Strengthening the European Court of Human Rights: More accountability through better legal reasoning) project set out to reinforce the consistency and persuasiveness of the court's legal reasoning. Overall, the goal was to improve its accountability and transparency. To achieve its aims, the project analysed consistency and transparency issues in the court's judgments, and delivered concrete proposals to improve its legal reasoning in four key areas. Project partners investigated the delimitation of the scope of human rights provisions. They examined how the distinctiveness of cultural and religious minorities and women is accommodated. This included a study of face veil bans in Belgium and France, a discourse analysis to reveal anti-minority bias in judgements, the application of procedural justice concepts to minority case law, critical analysis of the notion of vulnerability in reasoning, and the development of a human rights approach to stereotyping. Researchers also addressed transparent proportionality reasoning from several perspectives. The first was an analysis of the court's use of the margin of appreciation doctrine, followed by minimum and maximum approaches to human rights protection. The third was the relevance of social psychology findings on procedural justice for the court in Strasbourg. The final one dealt with the court's reasoning on positive state obligations, leading to a coherent approach to proportionality reasoning for both negative and positive obligations. Project outcomes have featured in several books and doctoral theses, and been presented at expert seminars and a dedicated conference. ECHR identified new solutions for key human rights problems and introduced several innovations in the European human rights law domain. The work will boost the court's capacity as a world-class human rights adjudicating body.


Human rights law, European Court of Human Rights, ECHR, accountability, legal reasoning

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