Appreciating the Margin of Appreciation

Human Rights: Moral or Political? Adam Etinson, ed. Oxford University Press 2017

22 Pages Posted: 25 Apr 2017

Date Written: April 23, 2017


How should an international human rights court best pay due respect to both the treaty and to its sovereign creators? The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) is a prime case. It reviews whether states uphold their obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The Court is also authorized to rule on whether states may violate certain of their citizens’ rights – as the Convention permits - in order to protect morals, the conflicting rights of others, national security or other considerations (e.g. Articles 8 and 15).

One mechanism that arguably serves to reduce the risk that the ECtHR will abuse its power is the margin of appreciation (MA) doctrine that the Court has developed. The Court grants states the authority to decide, in some cases, whether they are in compliance with their treaty obligations. Is the MA doctrine a sound response to this perceived dilemma between majoritarian democracy and protection of human rights? The present chapter presents and defends some form of the MA doctrine precisely as a contribution by the Court to both protect human rights and to promote domestic democracies. I shall also suggest reforms to render it more legitimate.

Keywords: European Court of Human Rights, Margin of Appreciation, sovereignty, human rights, proportionality

Suggested Citation

Follesdal, Andreas, Appreciating the Margin of Appreciation (April 23, 2017). Human Rights: Moral or Political? Adam Etinson, ed. Oxford University Press 2017, Available at SSRN:

Andreas Follesdal (Contact Author)

Pluricourts ( email )

P.O. Box 6706
St. Olavs plass 5
0130 Oslo

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