Unstable Identities: The European Court of Human Rights and the Margin of Appreciation
23 Pages Posted: 5 Aug 2014 Last revised: 6 Oct 2014
Date Written: June 9, 2014
All legal systems work under a master narrative – the self-conception of most actors of the system itself. A master narrative is a short and simple story and it is the underlying premise upon which any legal system is based. It is a simple story because it paints the system in quick broad brushstrokes and at (most) times is oblivious to the paradoxes within it. Furthermore, a master narrative is important for legitimization purposes because the actors’ legitimacy will depend on their (perceived) conformity with the system’s master narrative. Therefore, legitimacy is self-referential; the yardsticks for a legitimate action are contained within the system’s master narrative, not outside of it. When talking about different international courts it is important to remember that they are embedded within a master narrative that is contextual and contingent and, at different points, more or less contested. This paper explores the question of what happens when the master-narrative is in a period of transition (from a state cantered to a post-national world order) and when the actors’ legitimacy, their interpretative endeavours the very fundamentals are in a state of flux. I use the margin of appreciation discussion as a focal point of describing the conflicting narratives under which the European Court of Human Rights works, narratives in which the different actors (judges, attorneys, NGO activists, government agents) and their consequences in terms of the interpretation of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Keywords: margin of appreciation, European Convention of Human Rights, interpretation, master narratives
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