CYIL vol. 11 (2020)


CYIL 11 (2020)

Introduction On 16 March 2020, a press release issued by the Registry of the European Court of Human Rights was published, informing the general public about “exceptional measures” adopted by the Court in reaction to the current Covid-19 pandemic which hit Europe. It contained the information that only essential activities, especially the handling of priority cases and examination of urgent requests for interim measures, will be maintained. According to the cited press release, the Court has been closed to the public, all hearings scheduled for March and April have been cancelled and, most importantly, the six-month time-limit for the lodging of applications, under Article 35 of the European Convention on Human Rights (Convention) 1 , has been exceptionally suspended for one month, as well as all time-limits allotted in proceedings currently pending. 2 On 27 March 2020, the Registry issued a second press release titled Current activities at the ECHR during the global health crisis on further measures adopted. In particular, the public was informed that no further judgments and decisions will be notified (except for the Grand Chamber and particularly urgent cases) until the normal activity of the Court resumes. 3 On 9 April 2020, the Registry issued yet another press release informing that the exceptional measures adopted on 16 March 2020 have been extended for a further two-month period. 4 The only exception was the three-month time period under Article 43 of the Convention for the filing of a request for referral to the Grand Chamber. Finally, on 15 April 2020, the Registry summarized some further measures taken by the Court in its final Covid-19 related press release. It was specified that single judge decisions on inadmissibility will continue to be taken but will not be notified until the end of the confinement period. Applications will not be communicated to the respondent States. Grand Chamber, Chamber and Committee cases will only be assessed under the written 5 procedure. Lastly, decisions and judgments will only be notified to the parties electronically. These measures were supposed to end on 16 June 2020. As no further prolongation has been announced, we assume that as of this date, the usual functioning of the Court resumes and the time limits will no longer be stayed. At first, the information indicated in the above-cited press releases of the Registry seems clear. But on second thought, they rather raise more questions than give answers. The authors propose the reflection upon the problematic aspects of the measures adopted and, above all, how those were adopted and announced. The article focuses namely on the prolongation of the time limit for lodging of an application. The authors will first outline the questions the published Covid-19 related press releases raise, they will then analyse the measures adopted by the Court in the light of international law and then finally argue why the measures, although seemingly sensible in the crisis, are significantly legally problematic and may backfire in the end. 1 Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, ETS No.005, 4 November 1950. 2 European Court of Human Rights is taking exceptional measures. Press release [online]. Council of Europe, 16 March 2020. Accessible at: 3 Current activities at the ECHR during the global health crisis. Press release [online). Council of Europe, 27 March 2020. Accessible at: 4 Extension of exceptional measures at the European Court of Human Rights. Press Release [online]. Council of Europe, 9 April 2020. Accessible at: 5 The functioning of the Court during the period of confinement. Press Release [online]. Council of Europe, 15 April 2020. Accessible at:


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