Fees to European Court on Human Rights Might Prevent Access to Justice

Heidi Hautala, together with MEPs Ulrike Lunacek and Barbara Lochbihler sent on 8 March a letter to all EU Member States representatives, expressing concern over contemplation by the Council of Europe Member States to impose fees on individuals who file a case with the European Court of Human Rights.[:]
European Parliament
Rue Wiertz 60
B-1047 Brussels
The Honourable Steven Vanackere
Deputy Prime Minister and
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Institutional Reforms
15, Rue des Petits Carmes
B-1000 Brussels
Brussels, 8 March 2011
RE: Fees of the European Court of Human Rights
Dear Minister Vanackere

We are writing to you to express our concern and voice our opposition with proposal under consideration, by the 47 governments of the Council of Europe, to impose fees on individuals who file a case with the European Court of Human Rights. Since the Court is a last resort for individuals seeking redress for alleged violations of their most fundamental rights, this measure might present itself as an insurmountable barrier for access to justice by those victims. Should a fee be imposed, some victims might be denied remedy solely due to their inability to pay additional costs. We would like to recall here that it is a foundation of rule of law in democratic society that lack of financial means shall not hinder delivery of justice.

While an option of waiving fees might be considered by the Committee of Ministers, we are of the view that such financial requirements nevertheless being set up in the first place would severely undermine the universal right to seek justice for human rights violations.

We furthermore recall that imposing of fees would be first action of such kind by an international or regional human rights institution. Being aware of the considerable challenges all international and regional human rights institutions face, we would ward off such measures as they might move the debate about boundaries of the access to justice onto a slippery slope and create a precedent vulnerable for abuse.

We understand that the measure is under consideration in order to decrease the number of inadmissible applications presented to the Court. While it is uncertain if imposition of fees would reduce the number of complaints, indeed it cannot be certified that the measure would target only inadmissible communications, instead of also the admissible ones, we recall that other options for the purpose of addressing the volume of complaints, remain open.

It is neither certain that this additional measure would decrease the administrative workload of the Court instead of increasing it. Large volumes of applications, both admissible and inadmissible, derive from a wide range of reasons. While there is a case for the Court to be made more efficient, it is also for the member states of the Council of Europe to inform their citizens better of the procedures at the Court, and ultimately, to oblige with their commitments under the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, as amended by Protocols No. 11 and 14.

For these reasons we urge the member states of Council of Europe to promptly reject this proposal. We remain at your full purpose in any deliberations you would wish to have over the other options of addressing the volume of complaints.

Heidi Hautala
Chair of the Subcommittee on Human Rights

Ulrike Lunacek
Greens/EFA Coordinator for Foreign Affairs

Barbara Lochbihler
Greens/EFA Coordinator for Human Rights