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‘La Cour’

18 June 2009

Daisy McCabe-Lokos, who is interning with MRG’s dynamic Legal Cases Programme, reports back from a trip to the European Court of Human Rights.

Sitting in the front row of the ultra-modern, ultra-Euro styled, Grand Chamber, I couldn’t help but agree with what another legal intern sitting next to me exclaimed, “When they say Grand, they’re not messing around!”. The panel of seventeen judges, each from a member state of the Council of Europe, entered in through double doors to our left in what seemed like an endless procession of dark blue robes and stark-white collars. They were preceded not only by a man who had been charged with the duty to declare “La Cour!”, but also by a jarring primary school recess bell indicating that it was time for us to rise for the Justices.

Once the bench sat down in the “UN Blue” upholstered office chairs that filled the room, we did too. Immediately I surveyed the members of the bench. To my dismay my Xeroxed seating chart did not match up to their real life seated positions. I knew this because as I made my initial survey I noticed that out of seventeen judges only four were women, and I was pretty confident that one of them was not named Egbert. I also noticed that there was a shortage, in fact a total absence, of visible minorities on the bench.

Having come from University of Windsor Faculty of Law in Canada, a school whose flagship phrase is “Access to Justice”, I have studied, queried and debated the existence (or lack thereof) of both formal and substantive equality in the Canadian legal system times over. The first female appointee to the Canadian Supreme Court, Madam Justice Bertha Wilson, asked in 1990: “Will women judges really make a difference?”. In the case of the ECHR bench this is a question that could be extended to include many minority group members who may feel underrepresented at the highest Court in Europe.

Considering the substance of the case at bar on June 3rd, equality was a pertinent issue in the court that day; not only for me. It is our hope at MRG that the work has paid off, that the intense collaborative efforts made by all those involved will heed the optimum outcome. Sejdić and Finci v. Bosnia and Herzegovina holds promise to spur the amendment of an entire state constitution; to condemn discrimination and embrace real formal and substantive equality in the highest decision making bodies of the state. The question remains, can the Court do the same?

This article reflects the sole opinion of its author and does not engage MRG’s responsibility.