Rijnhout and Emaus, ‘Damages in Wrongful Death Cases in the Light of European Human Rights Law: Towards a Rights-Based Approach to the Law of Damages’

European human rights law is superior to the national laws of damages. The case law of the European Court of Human Rights now provides a sufficient reason for national lawmakers to rethink their concept of non-pecuniary damage. The fact remains that the ECtHR in its case law finds a breach of a fundamental right and remedies that breach, whereas the national law of damages affords the possibility of awarding compensation for non-pecuniary loss if the aggrieved party is injured. A conflict results: on the European level a rights-based approach is applied, and on the national level a damage/injury-based approach prevails. In this article we advocate a change in the national law of damages in order to ensure that the law of damages remains durable and consistent when confronted with judgments of the ECtHR: we advocate accepting and incorporating a rights-based approach.

The clash between European human rights law and the national law of damages is clearly expressed in the different approaches regarding bereavement damage. Under Dutch law a proposal aimed at introducing a legal basis for compensation for this type of loss was rejected a few years ago, whereas the ECtHR, starting from its rights-based approach, has found that compensation for non-pecuniary loss should be available as part of the range of redress mechanisms when a government body has infringed a family member’s right to life. An specific argument in the Dutch discussion, i.e. the moral aversion towards compensating and determining grief and suffering, can be overcome by not making a link with grief and suffering but instead taking one’s legal position as a starting point, e.g. the breach of the right to life. A rights-based approach not only supports the idea that any rights infringed should be remedied, but also implies a moral dismissal.

Rianka Rijnhout and Jessy M Emaus, Damages in Wrongful Death Cases in the Light of European Human Rights Law: Towards a Rights-Based Approach to the Law of Damages. Utrecht Law Review, Volume 10, Issue 3, June 2014.

First posted 2014-07-04 12:19:13

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