Irish president of European Court of Human Rights warns of budget shortage

Dubliner Síofra O’Leary has asked member states to increase funding

The European Court of Human Rights cannot manage its caseload of 74,650 pending applications with its current budget and has appealed to its member states to increase its funding, its president said on Thursday.

“We need more lawyers,” its president Síofra O’Leary, who is originally from Dublin, told journalists in Strasbourg.

“Over the last 10 years the court has lost 50 lawyers,” even as the number of cases being lodged increased, she added. “We have survived by cutting all the fat.”

The human rights court, which has 46 member states and was developed in the wake of the second World War to avoid a repeat of the abuses of the period, acts as an arbiter of last resort for people who have exhausted all routes to justice in their national legal system.


At times, this role has made the court politically unpopular in member states. In Turkey, president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has attacked it for its calls to released detained Kurdish opposition politicians, while in the UK the government has promised to override the court to allow the deportation of asylum seekers to Rwanda.

Key rulings related to Ireland over the years have included a ruling against Ireland’s criminalisation of homosexuality in a case taken by David Norris, now a Senator, and findings that the UK failed to effectively investigate Troubles killings including that of solicitor Pat Finucane.

Its funding is supplemented by “special accounts” into which member states voluntarily top up its budget, and a quarter of its employees are paid through this additional funding, the president said.

“That’s not a sustainable way” to fund the court and defend the values that it represents, Dr O’Leary continued, saying that every time she met an ambassador she began with an appeal for “more resources”.

Among the backlog of applications to the court, 75 per cent concern four countries: Turkey, Russia, Ukraine and Romania, according to the court.

The court’s registrar, Marialena Tsirli, said its budget, which is €76.8 million for 2023, is “clearly insufficient ... if you do the maths”.

On Wednesday the court declared that cases brought by the Netherlands and Ukraine against Russia were admissible. The Netherlands filed its case, related to the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines MH17 in eastern Ukraine, in 2020. The Ukrainian government had filed its submission, alleging human rights violations by separatists and members of the Russian military in Donetsk and Lugansk, in 2014.

A lack of sufficient staff to process applications has meant that judgments are delayed and arrive far too late, Dr O’Leary said, saying it “weighs heavily in our conscience”.

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary is Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times