COUNCIL OF EUROPE
COMMITTEE OF MINISTERS
Recommendation No. R (2000) 2
of the Committee of Ministers to member states
on the re-examination or reopening of certain cases at domestic level
following judgements of the European Court of Human Rights1
(Adopted by the Committee of Ministers
on 19 January 2000
at the 694th meeting of the Ministers' Deputies)
The Committee of Ministers, under the terms of Article 15.b of the Statute of the Council of Europe,
Considering that the aim of the Council of Europe is to bring about a closer union between its members;
Having regard to the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (hereinafter "the Convention");
Noting that under Article 46 of the Convention on Human Rights and
Fundamental Freedoms ("the Convention") the Contracting Parties have accepted the obligation to abide by the final judgement of the European Court of Human Rights (“the Court”) in any case to which they are parties and that the Committee of Ministers shall supervise its execution;
Bearing in mind that in certain circumstances the above-mentioned obligation may entail the adoption of measures, other than just satisfaction awarded by the Court in accordance with Article 41 of the Convention and/or general measures, which ensure that the injured party is put, as far as possible, in the same situation as he or she enjoyed prior to the violation of the Convention (restitutio in integrum);
Noting that it is for the competent authorities of the respondent state to decide what measures are most appropriate to achieve restitutio in integrum, taking into account the means available under the national legal system;
Bearing in mind, however, that the practice of the Committee of Ministers in supervising the execution of the Court's judgements shows that in exceptional circumstances the re-examination of a case or a reopening of proceedings has proved the most efficient, if not the only, means of achieving restitutio in integrum,
I. Invites, in the light of these considerations the Contracting Parties to ensure that there exist at national level adequate possibilities to achieve, as far as possible, restitutio in integrum;
II. Encourages the Contracting Parties, in particular, to examine their national legal systems with a view to ensuring that there exist adequate possibilities of re-examination of the case, including reopening of proceedings, in instances where the Court has found a violation of the Convention, especially where:
i. the injured party continues to suffer very serious negative consequences because of the outcome of the domestic decision at issue, which are not adequately remedied by the just satisfaction and cannot be rectified except by re-examination or reopening, and
ii. the judgement of the Court leads to the conclusion that
a. the impugned domestic decision is on the merits contrary to the Convention, or
b. the violation found is based on procedural errors or shortcomings of such gravity that a serious doubt is cast on the outcome of the domestic proceedings complained of.
1. The Contracting Parties to the Convention enjoy a discretion, subject to the supervision of the Committee of Ministers, as to how they comply with the obligation in Article 46 of the Convention "to abide by the final judgment of the Court in any case to which they are parties."
2. The Court has held: "a judgment in which the Court finds a breach imposes on the respondent State a legal obligation to put an end to the breach and make reparation for its consequences in such a way as to restore as far as possible the situation existing before the breach" (see inter alia the Court’s judgment in the Papamichalopoulos case against Greece of 31 October 1995, paragraph 34, Series A 330-B). The Court was here expressing the well-known international law principle of restitutio in integrum, which has also frequently been applied by the Committee of Ministers in its resolutions. In this context, the need to improve the possibilities under national legal systems to ensure restitutio in integrum for the injured party has become increasingly apparent.
3. Although the Convention contains no provision imposing an obligation on Contracting Parties to provide in their national law for the re-examination or reopening of proceedings, the existence of such possibilities have, in special circumstances, proven to be important, and indeed in some cases the only, means to achieve restitutio in integrum. An increasing number of States have adopted special legislation providing for the possibility of such re-examination or reopening. In other States this possibility has been developed by the courts and national authorities under existing law.
4. The present recommendation is a consequence of these developments. It invites all Contracting Parties to ensure that their legal systems contain the necessary possibilities to achieve, as far as possible, restitutio in integrum, and, in particular, provide adequate possibilities for re-examining cases, including reopening proceedings.
5. As regards the terms, the recommendation uses "re-examination" as the generic term. The term "reopening of proceedings" denotes the reopening of court proceedings, as a specific means of re-examination. Violations of the Convention may be remedied by different measures ranging from administrative re-examination of a case (e.g. granting a residence permit previously refused) to the full reopening of judicial proceedings (e.g. in cases of criminal convictions).
6. The recommendation applies primarily to judicial proceedings where existing law may pose the greatest obstacles to new proceedings. The recommendation is, however, also applicable to administrative or other measures or proceedings, although such legal obstacles will usually be less important in these areas.
7. There follow, first, specific comments relating to the two operative paragraphs of the recommendation and, secondly, more general comments on questions not explicitly dealt with in the recommendation.
Comments on the operative provisions
8. Paragraph 1 sets out the basic principle behind the recommendation that all victims of violations of the Convention should be entitled, as far as possible, to an effective restitutio in integrum. The Contracting Parties should, accordingly, review their legal systems with a view to ensuring that the necessary possibilities exist.
9. Paragraph 2 encourages States which have not already done so, to provide for the possibility of re-examining cases, including reopening of domestic proceedings, in order to give full effect to the judgments of the Court. The paragraph also sets out those circumstances in which re-examination or reopening is of special importance, in some instances perhaps the only means, to achieve restitutio in integrum.
10. The practice of the Convention organs has demonstrated that it is primarily in the field of criminal law that the re-examination of a case, including the reopening of proceedings, is of the greatest importance. The recommendation is, however, not limited to criminal law, but covers any category of cases, in particular those satisfying the criteria enumerated in sub-paragraphs (i) and (ii). The purpose of these additional criteria is to identify those exceptional situations in which the objectives of securing the rights of the individual and the effective implementation of the Court’s judgments prevail over the principles underlying the doctrine of res judicata, in particular that of legal certainty, notwithstanding the undoubted importance of these principles.
Sub-paragraph (i) is intended to cover the situation in which the injured party continues to suffer very serious negative consequences, not capable of being remedied by just satisfaction, because of the outcome of domestic proceedings. It applies in particular to persons who have been sentenced to lengthy prison sentences and who are still in prison when the Convention organs examine the "case". It applies, however, also in other areas, for example, when a person is unjustifiably denied certain civil or political rights (in particular in case of loss of, or non-recognition of legal capacity or personality, bankruptcy declarations or prohibitions of political activity), if a person is expelled in violation of his or her right to family life or if a child has been unjustifiedly forbidden contacts with his or her parents. It is understood that there must exist a direct causal link between the violation found and the continuing suffering of the injured party.
12. Sub-paragraph (ii) is intended to indicate, in the cases where the above-mentioned conditions are met, the kind of violations in which re-examination of the case or reopening of the proceedings will be of particular importance. Examples of situations aimed at under item (a) are criminal convictions violating Article 10 because the statements characterised as criminal by the national authorities constitute legitimate exercise of the injured party's freedom of expression or violating Article 9 because the behaviour characterised as criminal is a legitimate exercise of freedom of religion. Examples of situations aimed at under item (b) are where the injured party did not have the time and facilities to prepare his or her defence in criminal proceedings, where the conviction was based on statements extracted under torture or on material which the injured party had no possibility of verifying, or where in civil proceedings the parties were not treated with due respect for the principle of equality of arms. Any such shortcomings must, as appears from the text of the recommendation itself, be of such a gravity that serious doubt is cast on the outcome of the domestic proceedings.
13. The recommendation does not deal with the problem of who ought to be empowered to ask for reopening or re-examination. Considering that the basic aim of the recommendation is to ensure an adequate protection of the victims of certain grave violations of the Convention found by the Court, the logic of the system implies that the individuals concerned should have the right to submit the necessary requests to the competent court or other domestic organ. Considering the different traditions of the Contracting Parties, no provision to this effect has, however, been included in the recommendation.
14. The recommendation does not address the special problem of "mass cases", i.e. cases in which a certain structural deficiency leads to a great number of violations of the Convention. In such cases it is in principle best left to the State concerned to decide whether or not reopening or re-examination are realistic solutions or, whether other measures are appropriate.
15. When drafting the recommendation it was recognised that reopening or re-examination could pose problems for third parties, in particular when these have acquired rights in good faith. This problem exists, however, already in the application of the ordinary domestic rules for re-examination of cases or reopening of the proceedings. The solutions applied in these cases ought to be applicable, at least mutatis mutandis, also to cases where re-examination or reopening was ordered in order to give effect to judgments of the Court.
In cases of re-examination or reopening, in which the Court has awarded some just satisfaction, the question of whether, and if so, how it should be taken into account will be within the discretion to the competent domestic courts or authorities taking into account the specific circumstances of each case.
1 Considering that the quasi-judicial functions of the Committee of Ministers under the former Article 32 of the Convention will cease in the near future, no mention of the Committee of Ministers’ decisions is made. It is understood, however, that should certain cases still be under examination when the recommendation is adopted, the principles of this recommendation will also apply to such cases.