“Principled resistance” against European Court of Human Rights judgments in the light of critical theory

Available in Russian

Author: Vladislav Tolstykh

DOI: 10.21128/2226-2059-2018-1-79-89

Keywords: “principled resistance”; constitutional justice; human rights; interaction of orders; The European Court of Human Rights


In the past few years, the supreme courts of member states of the Council of Europe have repeatedly refused to comply with the European Court of Human Rights judgments with reference to the priority of domestic law or other obstacles existing at the level of internal order. This phenomenon was named “principled resistance.” This article analyzes “principled resistance” in light of the critical approach to international law, voiced by D.Kennedy, J.Boyle, and M.Koskenniemi. This approach suggests several key ideas: the dependence of law on politics, the balance of autonomy and order, and the extension of argumentative possibilities. It considers human rights contextually, i.e. in connection with the environment in which they are discussed and act. It follows that human rights are not a single institution, but two (or more) institutions fixed in different orders. In this regard the phenomenon of “principled resistance” reflects not only the conflict of positions, but also the incompatibility of coordinate systems in which these positions were formed. This incompatibility does not suggest an impossibility of harmony of judicial decisions, which is achieved when the trends of autonomy and order are in balance. The trend of autonomy is realized if there are areas where states operate freely and independently; the trend of order is realized if there are areas where they observe common norms and carry out effective coercion in the common interest. Today these trends look almost exhausted and the opportunity for harmony of judicial decisions disappears: courts do not feel safe and stop making concessions. “Principled resistance” involves two groups of arguments: The first contains a criticism of activist practices of the European Court of Human Rights, while the second represents public policy tools, i.e. concepts that justify the right to refuse to implement disqualified judgments of the European Court of Human Rights. “Principled resistance” performs several useful functions, but undermines the existing balance between orders, devalues the rhetorical arsenal, and challenges human rights. The problem of “principled resistance” does not represent something completely new: any solution of it, however, will not be final, because it is caused by a general crisis of legal doctrine. This crisis can be resolved only through a transition to a fundamentally different legal paradigm.

About the author: Vladislav Tolstykh – Doctor of Sciences in Law, Head of the International Law Department, Novosibirsk State University, Novosibirsk, Russia.

Citation: Tolstykh V. (2018) “Printsipial’noe soprotivlenie” resheniyam Evropeyskogo Suda po pravam cheloveka v svete kriticheskoy teorii [“Principled resistance” against European Court of Human rights judgments in the light of critical theory]. Mezhdunarodnoe pravosudie, no.1, pp.79–89.


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