The Malta Independent 22 May 2019, Wednesday

Malta at the European Court of Human Rights 1987 – 2012

Malta Independent Sunday, 28 April 2013, 11:29 Last update: about 6 years ago

Human rights are very much like the air we breathe: all too easily taken for granted. Similarly we rapidly become firmly focussed on respect for our rights when we feel that they have been violated or restricted as though the air had turned noxious or we were short of breath.

This small book at first intended for specialists, as a tool for lawyers or a reference for historians listing 25 years of Maltese litigation at the European Court of Human Rights, appears to have taken its authors by surprise and taken flight beyond their initial ambitions.

By the addition of a few short chapters, the specifics of every case reviewed are placed in context against the background of the evolution of these safeguards for individual citizens with regard to the State.

It is only since 1959 that the European Court of Human Rights has been empowered to hear cases and give judgments to ensure the observance of the European Convention of Human Rights by its signatories. It is only since 1987 that Maltese citizens have a right to petition the court as individuals.

Yet we are all easily convinced that the idea of human dignity is as old as the first breath of the first human. On the other hand we take all this so much for granted that we may be surprised to find that it is all still very new.

This commemoration in print of the first quarter century of the efforts of Maltese litigants at a European level serves to underscore the persisting novelty and the enduring utility of a supranational court in re-establishing the balance or rights and duties between a State and its citizens. It also explicitly reminds us of the distaste of eminent constitutionalists such as Dicey and Jennings favouring as they did the guarantee of public opinion over a top down guarantee in the form of a binding text.

While a binding text gives every State fair warning and every citizen that much greater heart, the common ownership of fundamental rights as a personal value is what anchors them in political  reality. Countless conflicts may have been avoided in these last 25 years under review simply because the written word allowed no ambiguity. Judges at every level of competence have benefitted from having the bounds of interpretation more clearly defined.

Nonetheless it is public opinion, that profound awareness which we may speak of as a common value remains the ultimate guarantee. This book adds to that guarantee by being accessible to the general public and by describing both the notions of human rights and the practical difficulties of securing them in a compact volume.

Fighting for fresh air only when we are reduced to gasping could be reckless procrastination. We are all indebted to the authors for bringing these fundamentals to mind when we are best able to consider them serenely, to renew our firm commitment to their cause and long before our own are challenged if ever they are.


Tonio Borg is a European Commissioner, a former minister and MP and a human rights lawyer

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