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The Role of the European Convention on Human Rights in the Wake of Kiobel

Published on July 25, 2013        Author: 

Jodie KirshnerJodie Adams Kirshner is the University Lecturer in Corporate Law at the University of Cambridge and a fellow of Peterhouse College, Cambridge. Her research concerns cross-border and comparative issues in corporate law. She contributed to an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in Kiobel in support of petitioners.

SCOTUSThe decision of the U.S. Supreme Court (photo credit) in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum has generated concerns that a governance gap will emerge for corporations that commit human rights violations abroad. As American courts become less open to extraterritorial claims, however, recognition of the global context gains importance. The current climate presents opportunities for other judicial systems to step forward. Kiobel gives the European Court of Human Rights the occasion to interpret the European Convention on Human Rights to require the right to an extraterritorial forum and counterbalance the shift that has occurred in the United States.

Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights offers a potential pathway to jurisdiction over extraterritorial corporate human rights claims. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has already interpreted Article 6 of the Convention broadly, and some national courts that are signatories to the Convention have suggested that the article could support extraterritorial jurisdiction. Article 6 guarantees the right to a fair trial. Subsection 1 states, “In the determination of his civil rights and obligations or of any criminal charge against him, everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law. . . .”

The ECHR has encouraged an expansive reading of Article 6. In Delcourt v. Belgium (1970), 1 Eur. Ct. H.R. 355 (1993), the Court stated that “in a democratic society within the meaning of the Convention, the right to a fair administration of justice holds such a prominent place that a restrictive interpretation of Article 6 (1) would not correspond to the aim and purpose of that provision.” It has also maintained that rights under the Convention must be “practical and effective and not theoretical and illusory.” (See, e.g., Airey v. Ireland, 9 October 1979, § 24, Series A no. 32; Artico v. Italy, 3 Eur. H.R. Rep. 1, para. 33 (1980); Mehmet Eren v. Turkey, Eur. Ct. H.R. App. No. 32347/02, 50 (2008).).

The ECHR (photo credit), furthermore, has held that, though the text does not expressly include one, the Convention encompasses a right of access to court. Read the rest of this entry…