European Court of Human Rights no use to Estonians, says finance minister

Finance minister Martin Helme (EKRE).
Finance minister Martin Helme (EKRE). Source: Kairit Leibold/ERR

Finance minister Martin Helme (EKRE) has said that the legal buck should stop at the highest-tier in the domestic court system, with no scope for judgments at any level above that, adding the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) was of no use for Estonians. At the same time, he said that the judiciary in Estonia was politically oriented.

Helme made his remarks in relation to Estonia's membership of the Council of Europe (CoE).

"When we aren't satisfied, in my view, we should reform things; change people or change the law," Helme told daily Postimees.

"To say that we can't handle the protection of human rights through our own courts is really painful," he added.

Helme's remarks followed a question put to him by the daily on his opinion whether Estonia could recourse to the ECHR in an attempt to leave the CoE.

Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) leader, and Martin's father, Mart Helme, said last week that Estonia should leave the council, following the restoration of full voting rights to the Russian Federation, by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).

The ECHR in any case was established within the context of the 47-member CoE, after the drafting of the convention on human rights in 1950.

Based in Strasbourg, France, the ECHR hears applications alleging that a contracting state has breached one or more of the human rights provisions concerning civil and political rights set out in the convention and its protocols.

The body is entirely separate from the 28-member EU, whose legal foundations are based on the Treaty on European Union, amongst other agreements, and has its own Courts of Justice (CJEU) and Court of Auditors (ECA).

Both of the Helme's have nevertheless voiced plenty of criticism on Estonia's own legal system, in particular its judiciary, something which Martin Helme reiterated in the Postimees interview.

Helme claimed that the top-tier Supreme Court in particular leaned towards being a political body.

"Judges are clearly diverging from their role when making their policies, and are effectively entitled to act as a type of parliament," Helme said, opining that if judges allow political opinion to direct political decisions, politicians are not obliged to implement these decisions.

Starting in 2014, Russia's voting rights were temporarily suspended by the CoE following the annexation of the Crimea region. These were restored in May this year following a majority vote. One fear cited was that millions of ordinary Russian citizens might lose access to the ECHR if this did not happen. Russia had also withheld its annual €33 million membership dues during the period of the suspension.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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