The judgement of the Lawless case was the ECtHR’s first one. Since the Convention remains silent on many organisational aspects, the first hearings before the Court gave rise to many procedural questions. Ireland raised several objections regarding the procedure, which were rejected by the Court. Another aspect that was not yet regulated was the judgement style. The ECtHR adopted the French style, where the judgement is basically structured along one long sentence. This tradition has since then been replaced but still stays succinct when compared to the British tradition. Besides these rather formal innovations, there are other important aspects to consider. According to Bates, the judgement was considered to be bold at the time, even though from today’s perspective, it appears to be very technical. It was the first time that a citizen was able to take the government of a sovereign State before an international Court to defend his individual rights. This was applauded by most contemporary commentators and will be discussed in more detail below. The judgement set up the whole human rights machinery in Europe and showed that the Convention was indeed operable and more than dead letter. In addition to these assertions, the court shows his inclination to broad interpretations guided by the overall spirit of the Convention. This is illustrated by the Courts interpretation of Art. 5 ECHR where he notes that in this instance, the Irish interpretation “would lead to conclusions repugnant to the fundamental principles of the Convention.” Furthermore, the Court made it clear that it had ample powers independent of the States and the Commission, when it held that it could act on its own to assure the observation of every relevant provision. This statement assures the respect of the individual’s rights even in cases where the Commission might fail to recognize all pertinent dimensions of a case. Considering the outlined basis, the Lawless judgement constitutes the beginning of the impressive quest for the legal enforcement of human rights in Europe that is still ongoing and evolving.
The Individual’s Standing before the Court
At the time of the Lawless judgement, the applicant did not have locus standi before the ECtHR. Locus standi means that a party has the right to appear and be heard before the Court. In the case of the ECHR, this right was reserved to the High Contracting Parties and the Commission. This decision was reached in the first judgement of the Lawless case where the Court held that “the Applicant ... is not entitled to bring the case before the Court, to appear before the Court or even to make submissions through a representative appointed by him.“ Nevertheless, Lawless was entitled to receive reports from the Commission to be informed and the Commision was able to make the applicant’s opinion known before the court. The Irish government was not favourable towards this arrangement. It argued...