Judge Tim Eicke KC on his path to Strasbourg
Even within the legal profession, to be elected to sit as judge at the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) is ‘beyond a dream’, says Tim Eicke.
Having taken up the post in 2016, he is currently the UK judge at the court.
Originally from Germany and having transferred mid-course, he graduated from the University of Dundee in 1992, and was called to the English bar the following year.
Over the next 23 years, he took silk and worked on a number of high-profile cases in human rights law, public law and public international law.
Then he was elected by UK and European parliamentarians to sit at the ECtHR as the UK judge.
“Getting to where I am – it’s not a path you can choose, it’s not even a path you dream of,” he says.
His name, together with those of two other candidates, was initially put forward by the UK government and, while he was delighted to be elected, he admits: “I perhaps didn’t quite know what I was letting myself in for.”
The ECtHR interprets the European Convention on Human Rights, and ensures that the member states observe the human rights obligations they have assumed under the Convention towards those within their jurisdiction, either on the application of individual ‘victims’ or of another member state.
It deals with cases from across Europe and every member state has its own elected judge.
While these ‘national judges’ cannot sit on cases in relation to their own country, either as a single judge or as a duty judge, they are, in fact, required to sit in substantive cases against their own countries determined by a Chamber or a Grand Chamber.
Judge Eicke comments: “There are approximately 700,000 potential applicants, in terms of those within the jurisdiction of the 46 Member States, so the range of potential issues is immense.
“Some of the more important and difficult issues currently under consideration include climate change, Russia’s occupation of Crimea, the downing of MH17 and the current war between Russia and Ukraine.
“But there are also always certain issues which appear to be recurring, such as the rule of law, a foundational principle of the Council of Europe, and access to justice; issues which we see coming up across Europe.”
He adds that, on a personal and professional level, the dynamic cultural environment at the Strasbourg Court is like nothing he has ever experienced before and that is something he will miss when his mandate comes to an end in September 2025.
“It’s a multi-national, multi-lingual and multi-cultural environment,” he says.
“Every day I work in two or three different languages and with colleagues from many countries, it’s an amazing experience.”
He stresses that his experience of studying German law before coming to Dundee, and then both English and Scots law at the University of Dundee – which was the syllabus at the time for all law students – has proved invaluable throughout his career, particularly in his current position.
“Being familiar with multiple legal systems helped him to realise early that the ‘core’ of law is to find solutions and that there usually is more than one way of finding that solution. I’m really grateful for my time at the University of Dundee; it undoubtedly set me up for the career I have had to date.”