Quality Demands on Court Decisions

Maintaining quality is a major task for any organization providing goods and services to the public. The more important the product or service, the more important is it’s quality.

Human Rights and their protection obviously are very important in a civilized society – and the ECtHR is at the top of the pyramid that should protect the Human Rights of citizens and organizations in Europe. So maintaining quality in the actions and decisions of the Court without question needs to be considered top priority. Any failure in that is likely to be linked to a failure in protection of Human Rights.

But quality does not come by itself, delivering quality requires permanent work. Quality management systems are an effective method to highlight quality goals and help an organization to work towards such goals.

One important role of quality management systems is that they force to outline what is quality and to define quality goals. Another important role is that they implement methods how to measure quality and require the development of methods how to deal with quality problems.

The lack of clearly formulated quality goals may lead to decisions which do not – or no longer – aim at fulfilling the goals that decide on quality, but instead permit subordinate goals to get preference. Such risk is the bigger, the bigger the organization is and the less the existence of the organization depends on fulfilling the true quality requirements. While a business not living to its quality requirements more or less quickly gets the bill in form of lost income, such type of close control cycle does not exist for many public services.

To my impression that is the current problem of the ECtHR. Given the very long times to a judgment the argument “justice delayed is justice denied” is a strong argument for reducing the time between application and judgment. That argument however can not justify that justice is denied right away by refused admission to justice in the form of erroneous inadmissibility decisions. But that’s typical dynamics following a lack of quality management measures: From a justified goal in the spirit of quality requirements (faster judgments) is derived a strategy (more efficient rejection of inadmissible applications), but further on that measure (reject quickly argued by inadmissibility) develops a life of it’s own and applications get rejected quickly, by that loosing the goal of improvements towards better protection of rights. In the end unjustified decisions are delivered quickly. Such development is eased by a lack of procedural requirements and transparency: If no detailed reasoning of decisions is required, decisions may easily be made without reason, if reasons and results are not published there is less concern about making inappropriate decisions. Unfortunately the demands the ECtHR is putting towards the jurisdiction in the member states it is denying for it’s own decisions, delivering single judge decisions without appropriate reaasoning and not making them public, so that a review by society is made impossible.

In the context of courts, quality management and the independence of judges may stand in somewhat conflicting positions, as of course “management” of the judges decisions would be interfering with independence. But nonetheless quality in the sense of guaranteeing rule-of-law and rights of applicants and society is of high importance. Indepence of judges may not mean arbitrariness of decicions. Therefore quality has to be in the head and heart of a judge.

But then indepence of judges does not oppose the application of a quality management approach. Independance not being arbitrariness is implemented in procedural rules, among which are the rules for a fair trial, guaranteed in article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Public trials and the need for reasoning decisions among others should be elements helping to maintain quality. Furthermore to administrative procedures a quality management system may be applid without problems.

While the points outlined here are a critical view motivated by my personal experience (which seems to be not unique, but in line with the experience of other applicants), I’m sure the goals, considerations and convictions are at the same time at the very heart of a majority of the judges at the ECtHR. So please help along that route, help to ensure that Human Rights are promoted in Europe, not suppressed by refusal of Court admission!

ECtHR is the highest body of jurisdiction in charge of ensuring Human Rights in the sphere of the Council of Europe. That would demand that ECtHR is also going ahead on the grounds of fair trials. But actually the single judge inadmissibility decisions, non public, without adequate reasononing and at the same time final, are just the opposite. Searching the internet for links to a quality management system applied by the ECtHR delivered no results.

That situation does not only put Human Rights of citizens at risk, it also questions the reputation of the Court itself.