International Judicial Monitor
Published by the International Judicial Academy, Washington, D.C., with assistance from the
American Society of International Law

Spring 2009 Issue

Justice In Profile

Jean-Paul Costa

Iran & U.S. FlagsThe name Jean-Paul Costa may not be recognizable to many people around the world; it is possible that even those within the international law community are not familiar with him. However, Jean-Paul Costa arguably holds one of the most important and prominent judicial positions in the world today. He is the current President of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), having been elected in 1998 and served as the Vice-President from 2001-2007.

The European Court of Human Rights is an international court whose jurisdiction extends throughout the 47 member states of the Council of Europe. With a potential applicant pool that exceeds 800 million people and 97,000 cases pending at the end of 2008, the European Court of Human Rights could very well be one of the world's most active and influential international courts. Thus, it is certainly worth examining the life and career of the jurist who is leading the ECHR into its 50th Anniversary year.

Based in Strasbourg, France the European Court of Human Rights monitors compliance by the Council of Europe contracting parties with the European Convention on Human Rights, an international treaty that must be agreed to by all member states of the Council. In his address on the opening day of the ECHR's judicial calendar on January 30, 2009, Judge Costa noted "when the Court was set up, no one, I think, could have imagined that it would one day fill the European judicial space to the extent that it does today. Its current influence in Europe, and even beyond, could hardly have been predicted."

A French national, Judge Costa was born in Tunis, Tunisia in 1941. He completed his secondary education in Paris and received his diploma from the Institute of Political Studies in Paris in 1961. His postgraduate work included a Master in Law from the Faculty of Paris and a Diploma of Superior Studies in Public Law. Judge Costa held many positions, academic, legal, diplomatic and judicial, before being elected to the ECHR. He was a lecturer at the Institute of Political Studies in Paris and at the National School of Administration, also in Paris. Other academic posts included associate professorships at the University of Orleans and the University of Paris Panthéon-Sorbonne.

Judge Costa has had a great deal of experience with issues relating to information technology. From 1971-1977, he worked at the Intergovernmental Bureau for Information Technology in Rome, serving as the Deputy Director General from 1973-1977. He was the legal adviser to the Computing and Automation Research Institute and Chairman of the Legal Observatory of Information Technology. Judge Costa chaired the appeals board of the French Cultural and Technical Co-operation Agency from 1979-1980. Later, in 1990, he chaired an arbitration tribunal that dealt with a computer law dispute.

Judge Costa's distinguished career also includes several judicial positions. From 1985-1986 he was the head of the French delegation during the negotiations of the Canterbury Treaty between France and the United Kingdom for construction of the Channel Tunnel. For the next three years, he was a member of the Intergovernmental Commission of the Channel Tunnel. Prior to his election to the ECHR, Judge Costa was the President of the 10th sub-division of the Litigation Division of the Conseil d'Etat / Council of State from May 1993 - March 1998.

From 1988-1989 he was a member of the "criminal law and human rights" commission set up by the French Minister of Justice. He consulted with the United Nations Development Programme and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). He also traveled to Romania and Albania on behalf of the UN Centre for Human Rights / High Commissioner for ?Human Rights in 1990 and 1991. During that time, he was the general rapporteur to the Haut Conseil à l'intégration des immigrés / Immigrant Integration Board. In addition, from 1993-1996, he was the chair of the "human rights and role of public administrations" working group of the International Institute of Administrative Sciences in Brussels.

Judge Costa is widely published, having authored five books and dozens of articles on international human rights, the ECHR, French law, and the administration of justice, among other topics. He is a recipient of the Commander degree of both the French National Order of Merit (1999) and the National Order of the Legion of Honour (2005).

As the European Court of Human Rights celebrates its 50th Anniversary in 2009, it faces a larger caseload than ever due to a substantial increase in the number of applications. Judge Costa noted, "currently 57% of the applications pending before the Court are directed against just four States (Russian Federation, Turkey, Romania and the Ukraine), whose combined population accounts for only about 35% of the total population of the Convention States." As a result, "there will be a massive increase in the workload of the court … We cannot just throw away the cases."

Judge Costa has firmly committed the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to work expeditiously and effectively in order to protect the fundamental freedoms laid out in the European Convention on Human Rights. At the opening of the ECHR's 2009 session he acknowledged the constantly changing environment of human rights law, stating, "the protection of human rights has thus become more fragile, more complex, but does that mean that it must yield? … I would argue that it is necessary to consolidate and breathe new life into these rights, to bring about their aggiornamento." Judge Costa will undoubtedly do all he can to ensure that the European Court of Human Rights, along with other international courts, "show that the existence and expanded role of numerous international judicial bodies make possible a joint effort to uphold justice and fundamental rights."

By: Christine E. White, Staff Reporter, International Judicial Monitor and Executive Assistant to the President, International Judicial Academy.

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© 2009 – The International Judicial Academy with assistance from the American Society of International Law.

Editor: James G. Apple.
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