The European Court of Human Rights in Search of Lost Time: an evolutionary interpretation

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Author: Tigran Oganesian

DOI: 10.21128/2226-2059-2021-3-75-104

Keywords: European Convention on Human Rights, European Court of Human Rights, evolutive interpretation, in search of lost time, living instrument doctrine

Abstract

Time is central to the case law of the European Court of Human Rights. By monitoring the effectiveness of the Convention’s system, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) tries to maintain relevancy and respond to new challenges. The author notes that the evolutionary interpretation is a method that provides the ECHR with the necessary degree of flexibility to ensure that the implementation of the rights is guaranteed by the Convention. Throughout this comparative analysis, the author emphasises that due to the peculiarities and differences in the legal culture of the respondent States, it is can be extremely difficult for the Court to promote a progressive interpretation of the Convention’s rules, even if it is consistent with the objectives of the Convention. In this regard, the Court’s decision in the Tyrer case is the embodiment of the philosophy of the living instrument. However, the Court presented a model of evolutionary interpretation and failed to immediately demonstrate how it works and will work in the future, which gave rise to a significant part of the criticism. As part of the critical views’ analysis on the application of the ECHR’s evolutionary interpretation, the author highlights that one way to overcome the subjective factor in evolutionary interpretation is the European consensus. This allows the Court to base its decisions on the “common denominator”, that is, not on the judges’ personal preferences, but on the existing consensus among the member States on any given issue. Considering this from a dialogical approach, the author proposes to consider consensus as a form of dialogue that flows from Member States to the Court on the question of what they believe should be the proper settlement of convention rights. The analysis of the application of the evolutionary method’s interpretation by other international courts is carried out, thus proving that the evolutionary interpretation is not merely a figment of the Strasbourg Court’s imagination and nor is it the result of judicial activism, but instead it is the consequence of today’s necessity. The author emphasises that a static understanding of rights and freedoms cannot guarantee the effectiveness of any system of international justice. The textual interpretation of the Convention is blind to contemporary developments and unjustifiably ignores the changed nature of human rights in the twenty-first century. On a practical level, it is likely that politically sensitive decisions will continue to provoke internal criticism. In the final part of the article, the author draws an analogy with Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, noting that the evolutionary interpretation is a kind of formula for the search for time, which simultaneously combines both the past and the present, and is a necessary formula for maintaining the effectiveness and relevance of the conventional system.

About the author: Tigran Oganesian – Candidate of Sciences (Ph.D.) in law; Associate Professor of the Department of International Law of the Diplomatic Academy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia, Moscow, Russia.

Citation: Oganesian T. (2021) Evropeyskiy Sud po pravam cheloveka “v poiskakh utrachennogo vremeni”: evolyutivnoe tolkovanie [The European Court of Human Rights in Search of Lost Time: an evolutionary interpretation]. Mezhdunarodnoe pravosudie, vol.11, no.3, pp.75–104. (In Russian).

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