Swiss President Samuel Schmid has called for reform of the "overloaded" European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
At a Council of Europe summit in Warsaw on Tuesday, Schmid also gave his support to moves to define relations between the Council and the recently expanded European Union.
Schmid made his comments about the Council of Europe’s legal body on the final day of the historic two-day meeting, which was attended by 46 countries.
He said that the court, which oversees the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights, was overloaded and was struggling with a backlog of 80,000 cases.
Schmid added that some members of the Council had still not signed an additional protocol to the Convention adopted by the Committee of Ministers in May 2004, aimed at speeding up the handling of cases.
This says that the eligibility of "desperate" cases - which are not strictly covered by the court’s mandate but make up between 90 and 95 per cent of cases presented - should be decided upon by one judge and not by three magistrates as is currently the case.
Schmid pointed out, however, that this would not be a suitable long-term solution.
His call was backed up by German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder who said it was absolutely necessary to make the court more efficient. Delegates also called for more judges and more use of domestic courts.
On Monday the Swiss head of the court, Luzius Wildhaber, called for an international panel to come up with a set of recommendations. This was welcomed by the summit’s participants.
One of the main topics of the summit, only the third of its kind in the Council's 55-year history, has been the overlap and occasional rivalry in the mandates of the EU and the Council.
In the summit’s final declaration, heads of state called on Luxembourg’s Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, whose country currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency, to draw up a report on cooperation between the two organisations – a move welcomed by Switzerland.
"The two organisations must complement each other in an opportune way and make use of synergies," said Schmid. He added that the issue was of great significance to Switzerland, even though the country is not a member of the EU.
Relations between the Council and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) were also on the agenda, with the two international bodies signing a joint declaration promising to work together on human rights and legal issues.
Overall, delegates called for a clear definition of the mandates of the three European organisations, which Juncker said should work with rather than against each other. They also stressed that human rights should remain the core activity of the Council.
swissinfo with agencies
Between 50 and 60 delegates from the member states of the Council of Europe met on Monday and Tuesday in Warsaw.
The final declaration called for a report to be made on the relations between the EU and the Council.
Reform of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg was also debated.
The Strasbourg-based Council of Europe is made up of 46 member states and was set up in 1949 to defend human rights, parliamentary democracy and the rule of law.
Since 1989, it has focused on assisting the countries of central and eastern Europe with political and economic reform.
This week’s summit is the third of its kind after previous meetings in Vienna in 1993 and Strasbourg in 1997.
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