European Court of Human Rights
The European Convention on Human Rights is an international treaty which only member States of the Council of Europe may sign. The Convention, which established the Court and lays down how it is to function, contains a list of the rights and guarantees which the States have undertaken to respect. The Convention was opened for signature in Rome on 4 November 1950 and entered into force on 3 September 1953.
A protocol to the Convention is a text which adds one or more rights to the original Convention or amends certain of its provisions.
Protocols which add rights to the Convention are binding only on those States that have signed and ratified them; a State that has merely signed a protocol without ratifying it will not be bound by its provisions.
To date, 16 additional protocols have been adopted.
States that have ratified the Convention, also known as “States Parties”, have undertaken to secure and guarantee to everyone within their jurisdiction, not only their nationals, the fundamental civil and political rights defined in the Convention.
The rights and freedoms secured by the Convention include the right to life, the right to a fair hearing, the right to respect for private and family life, freedom of expression, freedom of thought, conscience and religion and the protection of property. The Convention prohibits, in particular, torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, forced labour, arbitrary and unlawful detention, and discrimination in the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms secured by the Convention.
The Convention is applicable at national level. It has been incorporated into the legislation of the States Parties, which have undertaken to protect the rights defined in the Convention. Domestic courts therefore have to apply the Convention. Otherwise, the European Court of Human Rights would find against the State in the event of complaints by individuals about failure to protect their rights.
The European Court of Human Rights is an international court based in Strasbourg, France. It consists of a number of judges equal to the number of member States of the Council of Europe that have ratified the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms – currently 47. The Court’s judges sit in their individual capacity and do not represent any State. In dealing with applications, the Court is assisted by a Registry consisting mainly of lawyers from all the member States (who are also known as legal secretaries). They are entirely independent of their country of origin and do not represent either applicants or States.
Although judges are elected in respect of a State, they hear cases as individuals and do not represent that State. They are totally independent and cannot engage in any activity that would be incompatible with their duty of independence and impartiality.
The Court cannot take up cases of its own motion. It has jurisdiction to hear allegations of violations of the European Convention on Human Rights and does so on receiving individual or inter-State applications.
“National judges” cannot sit in a single-judge formation. In exceptional cases, they may be invited to sit in a Committee. However, the composition of the Court always includes the “national judge” when it hears cases as a seven-judge Chamber or a seventeen-judge Grand Chamber.
The initiation of proceedings before the Grand Chamber takes two different forms: referral and relinquishment.
After a Chamber judgment has been delivered, the parties may request referral of the case to the Grand Chamber and such requests are accepted on an exceptional basis. A panel of judges of the Grand Chamber decides whether or not the case should be referred to the Grand Chamber for fresh consideration.
Cases are also sent to the Grand Chamber when relinquished by a Chamber, although this is also exceptional. The Chamber to which a case is assigned can relinquish it to the Grand Chamber if the case raises a serious question affecting the interpretation of the Convention or if there is a risk of inconsistency with a previous judgment of the Court.
You may lodge an application with the Court if you consider that you have personally and directly been the victim of a violation of the rights and guarantees set out in the Convention or its Protocols. The alleged violation must have been committed by one of the States bound by the Convention.
The Convention makes a distinction between two types of application: individual applications lodged by any person, group of individuals, company or NGO having a complaint about a violation of their rights, and inter-State applications brought by one State against another.
Since the Court was established, almost all applications have been lodged by individuals who have brought their cases directly to the Court alleging one or more violations of the Convention.
You can apply by sending a completed and signed application form to the Court. The form, together with any relevant accompanying documents, must be sent by post to the following address:
European Court of Human Rights Council of Europe
F-67075 Strasbourg cedex
- You may write in one of the Court’s official languages (English and French) or in an official language of one of the States that have ratified the Convention.
- No purpose is served by sending the application form by fax since this will not interrupt the running of the period laid down in the Convention for applying to the Court. Only the original application form sent by post will be considered by the Court.
- Do not come to Strasbourg in person to state your case orally. Your case will not be examined any quicker and you will not receive legal advice.
- The Registry may ask you for additional documents, information or explanations relating to your complaints.
- You should download the application form from the Court’s website, fill it in carefully and legibly, sign it and return it to the Court as quickly as possible. The form must include:
- A brief summary of the facts and your complaints;
- An indication of the Convention rights you think have been violated;
- The remedies you have already used;
- Copies of the decisions given in your case by all the public authorities concerned (these documents will not be returned to you, so only copies should be sent); and
- Your signature as the applicant, or your representative’s signature.
- If you do not wish your identity to be disclosed, you must inform the Court immediately, giving reasons. The President will determine whether your request is justified.
- At this stage of the proceedings you do not have to be represented by a lawyer. If, however, you wish to apply to the Court through a representative, you must complete and sign the appropriate part of the application form.
Cases can only be brought against one or more States that have ratified the Convention. Any applications against third States or individuals, for example, will be declared inadmissible.
Cases can be brought directly by individuals and the assistance of a lawyer is not necessary at the start of the proceedings. It is sufficient to send the Court a duly completed application form with the requisite documents. However, the registration of an application by the Court is no guarantee that it will be admissible or successful on the merits.
The Convention system provides for “easy” access to the Court, enabling any individual to bring a case even if he or she lives in a remote region of a member State or is penniless. With this in mind, there are no fees for proceedings before the Court.
Legal representation is not indispensable at the start of proceedings; anyone can bring a case before the Court directly. The assistance of a lawyer becomes necessary, however, once the Court has given notice of the case to the respondent Government for their observations. Legal aid may be granted to applicants, if necessary, from that stage in the proceedings.
There is no list of authorised lawyers for the written or oral submissions to the Court. An applicant may be represented by anyone who is a lawyer qualified to practice in one of the States Parties to the Convention, or who has been so authorised by the President of the Chamber.
There are two main stages in the consideration of cases brought before the Court: the admissibility stage and the merits stage (i.e. the examination of the complaints). The processing of an application also goes through different phases.
A single-judge formation will declare an application inadmissible where inadmissibility is clear from the outset; its decisions cannot be appealed against.
A Committee will give a final decision or judgment in a case which is covered by well-established case-law of the Court.
A Chamber will give notice of the case to the respondent Government for their observations. Written observations are submitted by both parties. The Court then decides if it is appropriate to hold a public hearing in the case, but this remains exceptional in relation to the number of applications examined. Ultimately, the Chamber delivers a judgment that will become final only after the expiry of a three-month period during which the applicant or Government may request the referral of the case to the Grand Chamber for fresh consideration.
If the request for referral is accepted by the panel of the Grand Chamber, the case will be reconsidered and a public hearing will be held if necessary. The Grand Chamber judgment will be final.
The President of the Court may authorise any person other than the applicant, or another State Party to the Convention other than that against which the application has been lodged, to intervene in the proceedings. This is called third-party intervention. The person or the State in question is entitled to file pleadings and take part in public hearings.
Yes. Exceptionally, the Court may decide to take investigative measures and to travel to certain countries in order to clarify the facts of a given case. The delegation from the Court may then take evidence from witnesses and carry out an on-site investigation.
The Court occasionally appoints experts, for example when it requests expert doctors to examine applicants in prison.
The Court basically has a written procedure but occasionally decides to hold public hearings. Hearings take place in the Human Rights Building in Strasbourg. They are public unless otherwise decided by the President of the Chamber or Grand Chamber, as the case may be. The press and the public are thus usually authorised to attend; they just need to show their press or identity card at the reception.
All hearings are filmed and broadcast on the Court’s website on the day itself, from 2.30 p.m. (local time).
A friendly settlement is an agreement between the parties to put an end to proceedings initiated by an application. When the parties concerned agree to settle their dispute in this way, the outcome is usually that the State pays the applicant a sum of money. After examining the terms of the friendly settlement, and unless it considers that respect for human rights requires continuation, the Court will strike out the application.
The Court always encourages parties to negotiate a friendly settlement. If no agreement is reached the Court will proceed to examine the merits of the application.
When the Court receives an application it may decide that a State should take certain measures provisionally while it continues its examination of the case. This usually consists of requesting a State to refrain from doing something, such as not returning individuals to countries where it is alleged that they would face death or torture.
No, the Court’s deliberations are always secret.
It is impossible to indicate the length of proceedings before the Court.
The Court endeavours to deal with cases within three years after they are brought, but the examination of some cases can take longer and some can be processed more rapidly.
The length of the proceedings before the Court obviously varies depending on the case, the formation to which it is assigned, the diligence of the parties in providing the Court with information and many other factors, such as the holding of a hearing or referral to the Grand Chamber.
Some applications may be classified as urgent and handled on a priority basis, especially in cases where the applicant is alleged to be facing an imminent threat of physical harm.
A decision is usually given by a single judge, a Committee or a Chamber of the Court. It concerns only admissibility and not the merits of the case. Normally, a Chamber examines the admissibility and merits of an application at the same time; it will then deliver a judgment.
Judgments finding violations are binding on the States concerned and they are obliged to execute them. The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe monitors the execution of judgments, particularly to ensure payment of the amounts awarded by the Court to the applicants in compensation for the damage they have sustained.
Inadmissibility decisions, and also judgments delivered by Committees or the Grand Chamber, are final and cannot be appealed against. However, the parties have three months following the delivery of a Chamber judgment to request referral of the case to the Grand Chamber for fresh consideration. Requests for referral to the Grand Chamber are examined by a panel of judges which decides whether or not referral is appropriate.
When the Court delivers a judgment finding a violation, the Court transmits the file to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, which confers with the country concerned and the department responsible for the execution of judgments to decide how the judgment should be executed and how to prevent similar violations of the Convention in the future. This will result in general measures, especially amendments to legislation, and individual measures where necessary.
When the Court finds against a State and observes that the applicant has sustained damage, it awards the applicant just satisfaction, that is to say a sum of money by way of compensation for that damage. The Committee of Ministers ensures that any sum awarded by the Court is actually paid to the applicant.
If the Court finds that there has been a violation, it may award you “just satisfaction”, a sum of money in compensation for certain forms of damage. The Court may also require the State concerned to refund the expenses you have incurred in presenting your case. If the Court finds that there has been no violation, you will not have to pay any additional costs (such as those incurred by the respondent State).
- The Court is not empowered to overrule national decisions or annul national laws.
- The Court is not responsible for the execution of its judgments. As soon as it has given judgment, responsibility passes to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, which has the task of supervising execution and ensuring that any compensation is paid.
The Government Agent of the Republic of Armenia before the European Court of Human Rights submits observations within the questions of the Court regarding applications lodged against Armenia and ensures the execution of the Court's judgments.
However, the Agent’s functions are not limited to the implementation of the abovementioned tasks: the scope is wider. The Government representation before the Court is aimed at complementing the judicial system established by the European Convention on Human Rights, as well as contributing to the effective and comprehensive implementation of International and European legal standards. Such an approach is called upon ensuring protection of human rights from not only violations but also threats to human rights.
It is possible to apply to the Government Agent with questions regarding the submitted observations on applications lodged against the Republic of Armenia or the execution of the Court's judgments against the Republic of Armenia.
It is also possible to apply to the Government Agent in cases provided by the Rules of Court, when there is a necessity to discuss questions regarding the fate of the case, for example, filing a motion to the Government for friendly settlement of the application.
One can apply both to the Government Agent and to the Deputy Government Agent.
The States ratified the European Convention on Human Rights have undertaken to abide by the final judgments of the Court in any case to which they are parties. In case the European Court of Human Rights delivers a judgment against the Republic of Armenia, the Armenian Government takes appropriate measures to execute the final judgment. The measures undertaken may be of general and individual nature. Steps taken towards legislative amendments can serve as an example of a general measure. Individual measures may include redress to the applicant as a just satisfaction, as well as restitutio in integrum, that is the abolition of consequences of the violation.
While preparing the Government's observations concerning the questions raised by the European Court of Human Rights and within the process of execution of the Court's judgments against Armenia, the Government Agent cooperates with State agencies (e.g. the General Prosecutor's Office, Police, Judicial Department, among others) and with local self-government bodies. The Agent cooperates also with international and national human rights organisations. Besides, while fulfilling its functions, the Government Agent cooperates with the Permanent Representation of Armenia to the Council of Europe and within the scope of its powers may request and obtain necessary information.
The judge of the European Court of Human Rights in respect of Armenia shall not represent the interests of Armenia at the Court. The judge is independent and shall not engage in any activity incompatible with their independence and impartiality. The judge participates in the examination of applications lodged not only against Armenia, but also against other Member States of the Council of Europe, as well as plays a significant role in the development of the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights.
The Department for Relations with the European Court of Human Rights was established in 2004. Its functions are threefold: to assist the Government Agent in solving tasks and carrying out their functions; to contribute to the execution of the European Court of Human Rights judgments and decisions regarding Armenia; as well as to support the implementation of International and European human rights standards into the Armenian legal system.
It is not possible to lodge an application with the European Court of Human Rights through the Government Agent. However, everyone may apply to the Government Agent for obtaining necessary information or advice when wishing to apply to the European Court of Human Rights.