The President of the European Court of Human Rights, Judge Rolv Ryssdal died on 18 February 1998. He was aged 83. He had many friends throughout the common law world, including in Australia. He made a notable contribution to the growing jurisprudence of human rights. Judge Ryssdal was elected to the Court on the nomination of Norway in 1973. He served as Vice-President from 1981 to 1985. From 1985 until his death he led the Court as its President. It is during this period that its influence spread beyond Europe. The impact of the Court's jurisprudence can be seen in many decisions of the High Court of Australia and other Australian courts. Recent examples include DietrichThe Queen (1992) 177 CLR 292 at 307, 334 and LeaskThe Commonwealth (1996) 187 CLR 599 at 594-5, 615.
Rolv Ryssdal was born in Norway in 1914. His work with the resistance during the Second World War led to his arrest. He was detained and only released on the liberation of Norway by the Allies. This experience of oppression and discrimination left an indelible mark on his thinking. He rose in the Norwegian professional judiciary, becoming President of the Supreme Court of Norway in 1984, an office he held concurrently with his position on the European Court. During his service on the latter Court, the number of States subject to its jurisdiction nearly doubled. There are now forty judges from the participating countries in Europe.
Australian jurists were likely to see Judge Ryssdal in international conferences where his commending presence invariably made a big impact. He took part in a series of conferences organised by the Commonwealth Secretariat concerning the growing influence of international human rights jurisprudence on municipal law. A tall figure with a shock of white hair, his incisive and judicial mien made an impact wherever he went. He presided over the remarkable growth of what is now a formidable institution in Europe. But his judicial writing had an impact far from Strasbourg, the seat of the Court. Including in Australia.