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Democracy and the European Court of Human Rights

Contact: Professor Rory O'Connell

This project analyses the European Court of Human Rights’ understanding of democracy, taking a detailed look at the jurisprudence and placing it in a theoretical context.

The project examines in detail the jurisprudence of the Court. The Court has decided whether prisoners should have the right to vote, whether Islamist political parties can be banned, whether ex Communist party members can be excluded from the political process. It has reviewed cases on leafleting by anti-abortion activists in Britain, political advertising by animal rights groups in Switzerland, and by a pensioners’ party in Norway. The project places the jurisprudence in a theoretical context. It examines the international law obligations in relation to democracy. International law does not require a specific conception of democracy to be adopted and this leads to a discussion of different conceptions of democracy: direct democracy, representative democracy, deliberative and participatory. However democracy is conceived, in the 21st century democracy faces certain challenges: multilevel governance and globalisation; extremism; problems of inclusion and equality. The project situates the jurisprudence of the Court with respect to these theoretical debates.