Friday, 8 March 2013

New academic article - is the ECHR effective?

One of the world's leading ECHR scholars, Professor Laurence Helfer of Duke University, and international law expert Professor Erik Voeten of Georgetown University, have made available an article that will appear in a forthcoming issue of International Organization

The article, 'International Courts as Agents of Legal Change: Evidence from LGBT Rights in Europe', is an empirical analysis of the influence of the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights on the domestic law of European states. 

The analysis offered by Helfer and Voeten provides an important insight into why and in what contexts the ECHR is important to sexual minorities in Europe. 

Here is the abstract:

Do international court judgments influence the behavior of actors other than the parties to a dispute? Are international courts agents of policy change or do their judgments merely reflect evolving social and political trends? We develop a theory that specifies the conditions under which international courts can use their interpretive discretion to have system-wide effects. We examine the theory in the context of European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) rulings on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues by creating a new dataset that matches these rulings with laws in all Council of Europe (CoE) member states. We also collect data on LGBT policies unaffected by ECtHR judgments to control for the confounding effect of evolving trends in national policies. We find that ECtHR judgments against one country substantially increase the probability of national-level policy change across Europe. The marginal effects of the judgments are especially high where public acceptance of sexual minorities is low, but where national courts can rely on ECtHR precedents to invalidate domestic laws or where the government in power is not ideologically opposed to LGBT equality. We conclude by exploring the implications of our findings for other international courts.

The article can be found here:

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