Sir Nicolas Bratza, the only UK judge at the European Court of Human Rights, has been elected as its new President. The start of his presidency will coincide with the UK’s 6-month chairmanship of the Council of Europe which begins in November 2011.
Bratza will succeed Frenchman John Paul Costa on 4 November 2011 after being elected in a secret ballot by the court’s 47 judges, and has been elected for a term of 3 years. He may use the opportunity to improve relations with the UK government which are tense following the Council’s warning that the UK must comply with a 2005 ruling against the UK’s indiscriminate ban on prisoners voting. The Prime Minister said in November that the thought of giving prisoners the vote makes him feel “physically ill“. The deadline for UK compliance is 11 October 2011.
A full profile can be found in Bratza’s Wikipedia entry. He was born in 1945 and educated at Wimbledon College, following which he studied law at Brasenose College, Oxford. He is the son of a leading Serbian concert violinist Milan Bratza and a descendent via his mother of the Russell family which produced three generations of law lords. He spent two years at the University of Pennsylvania Law school before being called to the Bar in 1969.
Bratza was made a Queen’s Counsel in 1988 and in the same year was appointed as the UK member of the European Commission of Human Rights. When in 1998 the Commission was replaced by the European Court of Human Rights, Bratza was elected as the judge of the Court representing the UK.
The court required that judges be judges in their home territory and as such he was appointed a High Court judge at the same time. Although it appears that he did not sit as a High Court judge, he was a recorder (part-time judge) in the Crown Court from 1993 to 1998. In 2007 Bratza was elected as the Vice President of the Strasbourg court.
Bratza does not have a high profile in the UK and rarely gives interviews; his last appears to have been to Joshua Rozenberg at the Telegraph in 2003 in which he argued that European bodies such as the European Union should become subject to the Strasbourg court’s jurisdiction. However, he is – unlike some of the other judges at the court – well respected in the UK legal community. As president, he will be giving leading judgments in the most controversial cases, and this may improve the court’s reputation here. But judging from the recent comments of our politicians and judges, there will be plenty for Bratza to be getting on with.
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