The regional Database is a new, comprehensive portal that provides access to the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights (Strasbourg Court), case summaries and expert commentaries relevant to the South East Europe countries (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Serbia and Macedonia) in local languages (Bosnian/Croatian/Montenegrin/ Serbian (BCMS), Albanian and Macedonian). The Database is the result of cooperation between the AIRE Centre legal team with regional Government Agents representing the respective States before the Strasbourg Court.
The Database has been developed with the support from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office trough British Embassies in Podgorica, Skopje, Belgrade, Sarajevo, Tirana, Pristina and Zagreb and has been covered under the Diplomatic Influence and Values (Reuniting Europe) fund.
The countries in South East Europe are continuously ratifying international human rights conventions and harmonising existing legislation to comply with European standards. However, national courts have encountered difficulties in interpreting and applying judgments of the Strasbourg Court, not least because its jurisprudence remains largely inaccessible in local languages.
The database contributes to three important objectives:
Improving the implementation of the European Convention of Human Rights in the domestic courts of the Council of Europe’s member states, which was a key recommendation of the Brighton Conference, organised under UK chairmanship in April 2012.
Strengthening the capacity of the countries of South East Europe to meet the central Rule of Law requirements necessary for closer association with, and eventual membership of, the European Union, which remains the ambition of the whole region.
Strengthening regional cooperation amongst the domestic institutions in the field of rule of law and human rights.
The Database project catalogues a vast number of Strasbourg judgments and makes them available in one place, electronically, and in a systematic and searchable manner. It, therefore, represents a path-breaking endeavour by making abundant case law of the Strasbourg Court easily accessible to the national judiciaries.
This article briefly explains 1) what the database is, 2) what it contains, and 3) how to use it. It reports on the development of its promotion, implementation and adoption in the region.
What is the Database?
The European Human Rights Database (the Database) is an online database of Strasbourg case law, case summaries and expert commentaries relevant to the region in local languages.
The Database is primarily designed to enable national judges at all levels to incorporate and apply Convention jurisprudence in their judgments. It aims to encourage prosecutors, court experts and judicial assistants to take account of the Convention jurisprudence in their legal analysis.
It will hopefully also become a helpful tool for practicing lawyers, NGOs, academics and law students, as well as for government officials and members of the legislatures.
Content of the Database
The Database catalogues a vast number of European Human Rights (ECtHR) judgments in local languages. It contains:
- the text of every Convention Article,
- an overview of the main principles applicable to the relevant Article,
- reports on jurisprudence against each of the countries,
- short narratives,
- relevant expert commentaries, handbooks and comprehensive ‘factual situations’ as well as
- links to other material that may assist in the interpretation of the Convention.
A handbook on how to use the database is also being published in both printed and electronic versions to assist users to navigate the database.
How to use the Database
The main advantage of the Database, apart from being searchable in the local languages, is its user-friendly interface and search options. There are two main methods for searching the Database: the search by a Convention Article, and the advanced search.
The search by a Convention Article is preferable for users who do not have an extensive experience with the ECtHR case law because it provides a detailed description of an Article in question and its main principles. It also contains a list of common factual situations that arise under a specific Article, allowing the users to understand the context and the circumstances in which the given Article may be engaged, providing a list of all relevant decisions with similar factual background.
The advanced search option allows for a more sophisticated search that is suitable for users who already have a significant knowledge of the Strasbourg jurisprudence, and its key concepts. It allows for a search using several Convention Articles at once. The search criteria also include: general keywords, Article-specific keywords, and search by Article sub-sections.
The Annual Regional Rule of Law Forum for South East Europe
The first Regional Rule of Law Forum for South East Europe held in Budva, Montenegro in March 2014, and organised by the AIRE Centre, Civil Rights Defenders, the Montenegrin Government and the British Embassy Podgorica was the first time the Database was presented.
The forum promoted the implementation of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) in the region, encouraged regional cooperation over the continued development of the Rule of Law and Human Rights, and aimed to assist in the process of EU integration across the region.
The forum also provided a platform for the Database to be presented and for future beneficiaries (Ministries, judges and NGOs) to discuss its benefits and development. It was a successful product of inter-regional cooperation and sharing of best practises in the field of judicial reform and European integration. Due to its success this regional event will be hosted annually.
The Database Launch in Bosnia and Herzegovina
On the 2 July 2014, AIRE Centre and the office of the Government Agent of BIH before the Strasbourg Court, together with British Embassy Sarajevo, presented the European Human Rights Database, to over 50 participants including presidents of courts, prosecutors and directors of both judicial training centres in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Other speakers at the event included President of the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council of BIH, President of the Constitutional Court of BIH, Deputy President of the Court of BIH and UK Chargé d’Affaires in BIH.
The database will be introduced to judges and prosecutors in BIH as of September 2014, in training sessions organised in cooperation with the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council and the judicial training institutions Federation BIH, Republika Srpska, and the Brcko District.
The Database Launch in Macedonia
On the 14 July 2014, the AIRE Centre and the Judicial Academy of Macedonia presented the European Human Rights Database in Skopje. The Macedonian Minister of Justice, (the?) Macedonian judge in Strasbourg Court, UK Chargé d’Affaires in Macedonia and the Macedonian Government Agent in Strasbourg also spoke at the event. The launch received broad media coverage.
The database will be introduced to judges and prosecutors in Macedonia as of September 2014, in training sessions organised in cooperation with the Judicial Academy of Macedonia.
The Database Launch in Montenegro
At the press conference held in Podgorica on 18 July 2014, organised by the AIRE Centre and the Office of the Government Agent of Montenegro before the Strasbourg Court, the database was presented in Montenegro. The speakers also included President of the Supreme Court of Montenegro, President of the Constitutional Court of Montenegro, British ambassador to Montenegro and judge in Strasbourg Court in respect of Montenegro. The launch was widely reported in printed and electronic media.
The database will be introduced to judges and prosecutors in Montenegro as of September 2014, in training sessions organised in cooperation with the Judicial Training Centre of Montenegro.
The Database Launches in Serbia, Albania and in Kosovo
The national launches in these participants will be organised in September/October 2014 in cooperation with their respective Ministries and Judicial Training Institutions. The database will also be introduced to judges and prosecutors through a series of training sessions organised in cooperation with the judicial training institutions.
The full endorsement of the project by the respective Ministers and most senior representatives of the judiciary are of significant importance, for judges and prosecutors who will use it, but ultimately also for citizens of these countries who will hopefully benefit from better implementation of the European human rights standards on the national level. This demonstrates political will and commitment of senior ranks of the judiciary to find practical solutions to improve the human rights situation in the region. By making information accessible and comprehensive, judges will better understand the Convention rights and familiarity with the Strasbourg Court’s jurisprudence will improve. By working in close collaboration with the Judicial Training Centres the Database will not only reach judges in higher courts but will also be incorporated as a primary tool for training young judges and practitioners. Implementing the Convention nationally is the most efficient and effective way to secure individual rights. It is in the interest of both States in the region and in the best interest of their citizens.
For more information about this project, please contact one of our project officers.