British judge to head European Court of Human Rights

5 July 2011 by

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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  1. Armin says:

    Each government is free to put forward foreign candidates to be judge at the Court. There are currently two Swiss judges: one was nominated by Liechtenstein. There is thus no reason there could not be two UK judges at the Court.

    1. Florence says:

      however they will be representing the state who puts them forward not the state of nationality. If you are talking about Mark Villiger, he’s considered to be a judge of Liechtenstein not Switzerland.

      in the end all judges are meant to be independent and not represent any state interest, thus it does not matter how many judges come from which country.

  2. Florence says:

    Just a small note on the expression “the only UK judge”, every member state sends only one judge to the Court anyways, so UK can and will always have one judge.

  3. John Hirst says:

    I did read something awhile ago from the Court in which the age of Sir Nicolas Bratza was raised. I seem to recall that if he was appointed it would be as a caretaker President.

  4. ObiterJ says:

    Sir Nicholas Bratza was in the majority, finding against the UK, in the Hirst No2 case. If the British government are expecting some sort of “easy ride” they may be disappointed.

  5. Armin says:

    It is not that strange. Since its creation in 1959 no judge has been elected president of the Court without having served as vice-president, except for the first presidents of the old (1959) and new (1998) Court. No exception was made even in early 1998 when Rudolph Bernhardt was elected to serve as president for only 7 months. Considering that the term of the other current vice-president, judge Tulkens, ends even before Nicolas Bratza’s, this choice can hardly be called strange or surprising.

    1. Graeme Hall says:

      @Armin. I was trying to make two points. First, whereas Adam’s article indicated Bratza could possibly continue until 2015, from my understanding, Bratza cannot remain the President or a judge of the Court past October 2012; I was seeking others’ views.
      Second, if my understanding is correct, electing somone to the position of President in the knowledge that s/he can only remain in that role for 12 months is, in my opinion, strange, insofar as it is a necessarily short-term appointment for a rather important role. Merely because something happened in the past, possibly on numerous occasions, doesn’t mean that its reoccurrence cannot be viewed as strange. Further, I didn’t describe the appointment as surprising. I hope that clarifies my comment.

  6. Graeme Hall says:

    Judges of the European Court are elected for a non-renewable 9 year period. Sir Nicolas Bratza’s 9 year term of office is due to expire on 31 October 2012 (on both points, see: In turn, Brazta can only be President of the Court for a period of one year, at most. My understanding is that he cannot continue as either the President or judge of the Court after October 2012. Any ideas? If so, it seems strange that the judges have elected a President whose mandate cannot last more than one year…

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