MaltaToday | 10 August 2008

NEWS | Sunday, 10 August 2008

Giovanni the Strasbourg interventionist

When in 1998 Giovanni Bonello was nominated by then Prime Minister Alfred Sant to serve on the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg, few would have predicted the influence that he would have had on human rights law during his tenure in office.
Bonello’ s nomination as ECHR judge by a Labour Goverment, which in the eighties had been the receiving end of the erdudite lawyer’s various human rights cases brought against the Mintoff Government, was a sign of the reputation he had built in the Human Rights sphere.
His activist style of interpreting the law in the most liberal manner in order to protect the ordinary citizen who would have suffered a violation of his human rights has been praised in legal circles.
Bonello’s courage in criticising his fellow judges on the ECHR who interepreted the Convention in a fiscal manner or in a way which was unfair with the victims was displayed through the publication of sepearate opinions on various cases in which he disagreed with the opinion of the majority of the bench.
For instance, when the Court asked for more evidence to establish whether the police had indeed tortured a suspected PKK member in Turkey (Veznedarogolu vs Turkey), he said: “Independent observers are not, to my knowledge, usually invited to witness the rack, nor is a transcript of proceedings in triplicate handed over at the end of each session of torture; its victims cower alone in oppressive and painful solitude, while the team of investigators has almost unlimiited means at its disposal to deny the happenning of, or their participation in, the gruesome pageant.”
Judge Bonello’s contribution to ECHR case-law and the change that resulted in the forma mentis of the Court’s judgements has been recognised abroad.
His direct and indeferent style, loaded with irony, and excellent command of the language has been considered by human rights scholars in Europe and abroad as a departure from the Court’s usual frame of mind.
Judge Bonello’s dissenting opinions in the ECHR have been now collected in the book “When Judges Dissent”, published by the Institute of Maltese Journalists (IGM).
The 490-page book, edited by Mario Schiavone, contains Judge Bonello’s separate opinions in 53 cases of human rights violations committed in varous European countries, including Malta, brought in front of the ECHR in Strasbourg.
Speaking during the launch, Bonello lamented that there was not enough discussion among the judiciary and in the media about the developments taking place at the ECHR.
“Lord Sedley said that ‘in my experience, a judge is either an activist or fast asleep. I cannot say that I do not agree with him,” an unassuming Bonello told the seventy-strong audience that gather at Villa Parisio in Lija.

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