In the United Kingdom the Court is often criticised for being made up of ‘unelected’ judges. In fact, the judges at Strasbourg are elected, and, indeed, four new judges were elected to the Court recently. These were the judges in respect of Armenia, Latvia, Luxembourg and Monaco (for more details see Prof Antoine Buyse’s ECHR blog here). The details of the newly elected judges will soon appear on the Court’s web site, where all the current judges on the Court (including their c.v.s) are listed by seniority (time on the Court) (here).
The Court is made up of full-time professional judges, the number being equal to the number of High Contracting Parties to the Convention (47). Each judge sits for a single term of nine years. The criteria for office are set out in Article 21 of the Convention. The procedure for electing judges is found in Article 22 of the Convention, and see also Article 23.
It will be noted that under these procedures it is down to each State Party to draw up a list of three candidates nominated for subsequent election by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. In the past, at least, there has been a concern that some States Parties may not provide lists of suitably qualified candidates for the Parliamentary Assembly to vote upon. Further, in the United Kingdom, there is also a tendency (at least in some circles) for the general quality of the judges to be criticised. However, in recent years the Council of Europe has put in place detailed quality control mechanisms with respect to the nomination process for Strasbourg judges. This process, as it exists today, include the following steps:
– an Advisory Panel of Experts on Candidates for Election as Judge to the European Court of Human Rights [this panel of experts provides confidential advice to States Parties on whether the proposed candidates for election meet the criteria of article 21 of the Convention).
– the Parliamentary Assembly special Committee on the Election of Judges to the European Court of Human Rights (as reconstituted in January 2015) [this committee is responsible for assessing the qualifications of and conducting interviews of candidates for the post of judge; it has the power to recommend a rejection of the list of candidates proposed by the State Party with the government concerned then requested to submit a new list; this has occurred recently in respect of both the Slovak Republic and Azerbaijan – see here (follow appropriate links) – in each instance the Committee recommended that the list of candidates as a whole be rejected on the basis the candidates were ‘not sufficiently well-qualified’. The Slovak list has been rejected twice.
– election by the Parliamentary Assembly itself.
For further details of how judges are elected to the Strasbourg Court, follow this link (although note the doc is updated frequently), which offers a far more detailed and comprehensive account (including, for example, details of the standard-form c.v. that candidates are required to complete etc).
The high turnover of Judges
A further issue worth consideration is the potential for there to be a high turnover of judges, given the coincidental expiry of the terms of offices and other factors (resignations and age limits [70 yrs] being reached).So we may note that:
– Since 2014 the Judges in respect of Denmark, Serbia, and Bulgaria have taken up their office. Meanwhile in April this year Judges in respect of Finland, Austria, Andorra, Lichtenstein and Ireland were elected (see ECHR Blog).
– As noted above, Judges in respect of Armenia, Latvia, Luxembourg and Monaco have just been elected.
– In September this year the elections are foreseen for Judges in respect of the Slovak Republic (if their list is accepted), Cyprus and Slovenia.
– Looking ahead toward 2016, elections are foreseen for Judges in respect of Azerbaijan (assuming a new list is accepted) and the United Kingdom (April 2016) and for Albania, Georgia, Hungary, Spain and “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”.
My maths may not be entirely accurate, but it seems that in a very short period of time nearly half of the Court (of 47 judges) will be newly-elected to office. This in itself may be a concern, although it should also be noted that some of the candidates may bring with them prior experience of working at Strasbourg, for example as a member of the Registry.
Finally, as to the ‘British-nominated’ judge on the Court, Paul Mahoney, his term of office is due to expire in September 2016. As just noted, the election of his replacement is scheduled for April 2016, which must mean that procedures for the nomination of the next ‘British’ judge on the Court will start in the not too distant future. The Guardian’s report on the procedures for and short list drawn up for the last British candidate (leading to Mahoney’s election) may be found here. See here for a report of the election process at Strasbourg. Given the current dynamics of UK-Strasbourg relations, the process for the election of the new ‘British-nominated’ judge will be followed with great interest.