Report by Tetevi Davi, recipient of the 2018 Nicolas Bratza scholarship to the research division of the European Court of Human Rights.
Around this time last year, I had packed my bags and was setting off for Strasbourg having been selected to represent Lincoln’s Inn as a Nicolas Bratza scholar to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). Sir Nicolas Bratza was a former President of the ECtHR, and this scholarship provides recipients with the opportunity to spend 3 months as a study-visitor at the Court, which is tasked with ensuring compliance of Council of Europe member states with their obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights. Whilst I had lived and worked abroad for a period before, prior to leaving, I still felt the inevitable trepidation associated with moving to another country; this feeling was amplified by the fact that I was going to work at the ECtHR, where I knew that much would be expected of me as a Lincoln’s Inn scholar. Still, looking back, I can say that this was one of the most beneficial experiences I’ve had to date, and this scholarship is one that I’d highly recommend everyone eligible to apply for.
Work and Activities at the Court
Before arriving at the Court, I had the chance to speak with my supervisor, Rachael Kondak, who explained that my work would be divided between the Office of the President and the Court’s Research Division. Working for the Office of the President, I was exposed to a variety of tasks, which ran the gamut from assisting with the drafting of a speech delivered by the President on overcoming obstacles to the right of access to a court for detainees, to carrying out research for a background manual to be given to judges at an event on strengthening confidence in the judiciary. I was also able to attend, and took a detailed note at several interesting conferences, including a large, interactive event for NGOs and litigators in addition to a round-table discussion with judges from both the ECtHR and Inter-American Court of Human Rights on safeguarding the independence of the judiciary. My work for the Office of the President gave me a view of the Court from an institutional perspective and allowed me to learn more about how it interacts with various stakeholders, such as states and NGOs, as part of its function as a regional human rights court.
The work I undertook for the Research Division was, as to be expected, largely research-focused; however, it was certainly no less interesting than my other work. My tasks included contributing to a comparative research project on member state laws relating to the retention of data for convicted persons, which was being produced for a judge writing a Grand Chamber judgment. I was also charged with editing and updating various case-law guides, such as a guide on the protection of fundamental rights standards in the collection, accessing and processing of communication data by states, and the Court’s Article 8, right to private and family life, and Article 6, right to fair trial, case-law guides. Furthermore, I completed a memorandum for the British Judge at the Court, Tim Eicke, on the relevance of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and EU Charter of Fundamental Rights in family law contact-rights cases before the Court; this was fascinating research, because I previously had no knowledge of the Court’s jurisprudence in this area. The work I carried out for the Research Division provided an excellent contrast to my tasks in the Office of the President as it allowed me to learn about specific topics in a lot of detail, as well as to contribute to essential resources used by both academics and practitioners.
Life in Strasbourg
Strasbourg is one of Europe’s historic capitals and, as such, is home to several famous monuments and museums, many of which I had the pleasure of visiting during my time there. It is also the official seat of the European Parliament and Council of Europe, and it was great to be able to visit these important institutions in my spare time. I was fortunate enough to make good friends with a number of trainees at the Court and Council of Europe, and there was always something going on after work and at the weekends, from sampling local restaurants and bars, to weekends away to nearby cities like Heidelberg. A highlight for me was visiting the picturesque town of Colmar with my sister when she came to visit and going on short day trips to other towns in the Alsace region. These come alive with Christmas markets in late November and December.
All in all, my visit to the Court was a hugely enriching experience. It enabled me to contribute to some very high quality work, and I also made professional connections and built friendships, which will undoubtedly last long into the future. My experience was bettered in no small part by the warm welcome I received and the supportive environment created by my supervisor, staff in the Research Division and many other staff and judges at the Court.