Judicial independence in the case law of the European Court of Human Rights

Briefing 13-05-2024

Judicial independence is one of the key components of the rule of law. It is enshrined in Article 6(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, which states explicitly that 'everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing ... by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law'. Article 6(3) of the Treaty on European Union considers the fundamental rights, as guaranteed by the European Convention, to be general principles of EU law. Against this backdrop, the present briefing presents an overview of European Court of Human Rights case law on judicial independence. It focuses on various issues, including: the concept of judicial independence and criteria for assessing it; procedures for appointing judges and possible irregularities; the question of term of office, including the vetting of judges and early termination of term in office; the problem of external influence on judges (by the executive); possible lack of internal independence (from other judges); the question of combining judicial office with other work; and the question of judicial immunity. Recent European Court of Human Rights case law has clarified the notion of a 'tribunal established by law', especially in the context of judicial reforms seeking to expand the influence of the executive and legislative powers over the judiciary, thereby undermining its independence.