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Unilateral declarations before ECtHR Grand Chamber

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights will hear the case Jeronovics v. Latvia (application no. 547/02). The case concerns the prohibition of inhuman and degrading treatment (Convention Article 3) and the right to have one’s case heard in a reasonable time (Convention Article 6).

The applicant was sentenced to a prison term of nine years for a robbery. He was placed at an overcrowded cell without a window or sanitary facilities. The Latvian Government issued a unilateral declaration in the case, acknowledging a violation of the Convention and offering the applicant compensation for moral injuries.

The HFHR presented an amicus curiae brief to the Grand Chamber, which pointed that governments abuse the unilateral declaration procedure. “A unilateral declaration of a government is a procedure before the ECtHR in which a government admits to have infringed the European Convention on Human Rights and proposes a certain amount in compensation”, Dominika Bychawska-Siniarska, a lawyer working with the HFHR, explains. “The applicant may respond to the declaration and file a motion with the Court requesting the same to be rejected. The government may submit a unilateral declaration even if the applicant opposes to an amicable settlement of the case. The procedure for striking a case from the case list based on unilateral declarations has been introduced in order to reduce the workload of the Strasbourg Court”, Ms Bychawska-Siniarska adds.

Under the existing case law of the ECtHR unilateral declarations should be used only in recurring cases guided by the established case law.

“Unfortunately, in practice governments sometimes propose a unilateral declaration not only in cases with established case law, but also in proceedings that are likely to set a precedent”, notes Ms Bychawska-Siniarska. Examples of such a practice are cases involving a press rectification (Sroka v. Poland), an absence of effective investigation into a murder case (Osuch v. Poland) or no proceedings taken in a case of sexual abuse of a minor (Kaliszczak v. Poland).

In its brief, the HFHR pointed to a need for the more extensive ECtHR review of the reasonableness of accepting a unilateral declaration. The Foundation also noted that the Court should ascertain that the case named in a unilateral declaration does not raise any important issues related to human rights violations.

Often, the only way to redress a loss caused by a Convention violation is a re-instatement of domestic proceedings or a re-examination of the case. Although the majority of State-Parties to the Convention have implemented mechanisms for reinstating proceedings after an ECtHR judgment, legislators do not award such an option in cases that have been struck from the Strasbourg docket based on a unilateral declaration.

“In our brief we also noted a procedural loophole that involves the enforcement of decisions striking cases from the list because of a unilateral declaration. Since such decisions are not supervised by the Committee of Ministers, there is no control mechanism guiding their implementation. This significantly weakens the position of applicants seeking individual justice in the proceedings before the Strasbourg Court”, Ms Bychawska-Siniarska adds.

The HFHR’s amicus curiae brief is available for viewing here.

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