European Court of Human Rights

Since 1998, the European Court of Human Rights has operated as a full-time court, and people can apply to it directly. In addition, the European court, also known as Strasbourg Court, serves a huge role in the European Committee of Social Rights, which manages member countries’ respect for civil and political rights.

The international court, housed in the Human Rights Building, is a magnificent building designed in 1994 by the British architect Lord Richard Rogers. From here, the European Court of Human Rights monitors the respect for human rights protection of over 700 million Europeans in the 47 member states, which ratifies the European convention.

What’s the Court’s Jurisdiction?

The European Court of Human Rights has jurisdiction to decide applications of individuals and states concerning violation of human rights, generally known as the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

However, it can’t take up a case on its initiative. In addition, the individual or group submitting the complaint doesn’t have to be a citizen of a state party. Nonetheless, complaints submitted to the court must involve violations committed by a state party to the convention that directly affected a complaint.

By November 2018, there were 47 state parties to the convention, which included member countries of the Europe council and EU. Most of these states have since ratified one or more additional protocols to the convention that protects additional human rights.

It’s important to note that up until 16 September 2022, the Russian Federation was a member of the European Court of Human Rights.

What’s the Council of Europe?

The Council of Europe is the continent’s leading human rights organization and includes 47 member states. 27 are from the EU. All members of the state in the Council of Europe have signed the European Convention on Human Rights; a treaty meant to protect human rights and the rule of law. The other roles include:

  • Promote awareness of European cultural diversity;
  • Seek solutions to problems facing European nations;
  • Consolidate Europe’s democratic stability;
  • Encourage social cohesion;
  • Enhance and develop a cultural identity while emphasizing education in Europe.

The official languages used in the Council of Europe are English and French, with its headquarters at Palais de l’Europe, Strasbourg. Member states finance the Council of Europe based on population and wealth.

The Council of Europe’s main role includes addressing challenges of common concern to the member countries. These include human rights violations, drug abuse, migration, crime prevention, environmental protection, etc. To do this, the council uses more than 160 international treaties and conventions between various European states and domestic courts.

What Does the European Convention on Human Rights Entail?

The convention is an international treaty within the Europe Council, established in 1949 in Strasbourg during the first post-war to unify European nations. The main role of the convention is to protect the people against human rights violations within the council of Europe, which is all 47 member states, including the UK.

The convention guarantees rights and fundamental freedoms while prohibiting unfair and harmful practices. The convention secures:

  • Duty to respect rights (Article 1);
  • Right to life (Article 2);
  • Freedom of torture or punishment (Article 3);
  • Freedom of slavery and forced labor (Article 4);
  • Right to liberty (Article 5);
  • Right to a fair trial (Article 6);
  • Right to fair punishment without law (Article 7);
  • Right to private family life (Article 8);
  • Freedom of thought (Article 9);
  • Freedom of expression (Article 10);
  • Freedom of assembly (Article 11);
  • Right to marry (Article 12);
  • Right to an effective remedy or solution (Article 13);
  • Prohibition of discrimination (Article 14).

What’s the Structure of the European Court of Human Rights?

The court’s role is to ensure that it resolves as many cases as possible. Therefore, it’s organized into five administrative entities, each with a judicial chamber. Each section comprises a president, a vice president, and some judges.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Europe Council selects the 47 court judges and forms a list of qualified applicants recommended by the member states. Inside the court, judges work in four judicial formations as follows;

  1. Single JudgeTheir role is to rule in the admissibility of applications that seem inadmissible based on materials provided by the applicant.
  2. CommitteeThe committee comprises 3 judges and rules on the admissibility of cases and merits when a case concerns an issue covered by developed own case law. Their decision must be unanimous.
  3. ChamberThe chamber comprises 7 judges and rules on admissibility and merits of cases that have issues, not ruled on repeatedly.The court’s decisions may be by majority votes. The chamber includes a section president and a national judge. The national judge is of the state’s nationality against which the complaint lodging is from.
  4. Grand ChamberIt comprises 17 judges, whose role is to hear small cases, either referred to it by the chamber or turned down by the chamber.It’s important to note that applications never go directly to the grand chamber. The grand chamber comprises the president, vice president, 5 section presidents, and a national judge.

How Do You Submit an Application to the Court?

Every application to the European Court of Human Rights must comply with the requirements outlined in Article 47 of the Rules of Court. Before applying, you must know that the court regularly changes its rules while exercising its judicial functions based on domestic laws. For example, in 2014, the court began applying more stringent requirements for personal applications.

You can get an application form online, which you must fill out completely. Ensure that you also attach all requested documentation and attach to the application. Then, submit the application via postal mail with no legal costs.

Most applications are declared inadmissible since the applicants fail to adhere to the admissibility criteria. This includes thoroughly filling out the application form or failing to attach the necessary documents. Therefore, ensure you read all the required information before filling out the application to get the court’s judgments.

You can also check out published videos on admissibility conditions from the European Court of Human Rights website on how to properly fill out the application form.

What are the Proceedings before the Court?

It’s important to note that public hearings are rare; hence proceedings are mainly conducted in writing. Also, there is no cost for submitting an application. However, an applicant may apply for legal aid to cover any expenses that arise during proceedings.

You don’t need a lawyer to lodge a complaint, but if the court case is declared admissible, a lawyer must represent you in any court hearing.

Applications go through two phases, admissibility and merit. The nature of the case determined the speed and course of court proceedings. However, applicants need to know that it may take months or years to receive judgments.

What are the Admissibility and Merit Phases?

After application to the European Court of Human Rights, these applications go through two phases. These are:


Upon receiving an application, the court must determine if it meets all the admissibility requirements. Either a single judge, a committee’s three judges, or a chamber’s seven judges make the decision. The admissibility criteria include the following:

  • Cases with no domestic remedies;
  • Four months application deadline;
  • Complaint against a state party to the court;
  • The complaint suffered a significant disadvantage.

An application must meet these requirements, failure to which it’s declared inadmissible and can’t proceed any further. Note that there’s no appeal for inadmissibility.


If an application is admissible in court, it’s assigned to one of its five sections, and the court will inform the state of the complaint. Then, both parties have the opportunity to submit further information to the court.

The observations include any specific information requested by the chamber, section president, or any other relevant material that the parties decide is relevant. The chamber may consider both admissibility and merits independently or simultaneously. First, however, it must notify the parties of its plans.

When a chamber issues judgments on merits, there is a three-month period before a final decision. During this time, either party may request a referral of the application to the Grand Chamber. Nevertheless, the Grand Chamber only hears a few exceptional cases.

When the court makes judgments in favor of the applicant, it may award monetary compensation and require that the state cover the cost. However, if the court finds no violation, the applicant isn’t liable for the state’s legal expenses.

Can the Court Offer a Friendly Settlement?

Before a court makes its decision based on merits, it will assist in arranging a friendly settlement. However, if a friendly settlement isn’t possible, the court will deliver judgments on the merits.

When the court considers both admissibility and merits of a case, the parties may include friendly settlements in the observation they submit to the European Court of Human Rights.

How the European Court of Human Rights Makes People Safer

The European Convention on Human Rights has benefited the rights of women, children, people with disabilities, LGBTI people, and many more across Europe. Here are some of the ways the court has made people safer.

  1. Keep children free from caning.Until 1986, corporal punishment was the norm and legal in UK schools. So when Jeffrey Cosans, a student, was sent home on suspension for refusing to be struck using a belt, his mother and another mother went to court to report the authorities.The court ended up ruling that the schools were in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights, as they did not regard the parent’s objection to corporal punishment. This led to the abolition of corporal punishments in state schools four years later.
  2. Fighting for a free press.A free press is important to media houses as they deliver information to the people; this is freedom of expression. The Thalidomide disaster was one to reckon with, as it was a serious issue, hence drawing a lot of attention from media houses.The Thalidomide drug, marketed as a mild sleeping pill, was said to be safe for pregnant women. However, thousands of babies were born with malformed limbs. The Sunday Times published articles about settlements and the support of these victims.However, the High Court said they were in contempt of the court. In 1979, the European court said that the authority violated fundamental freedoms of expression, and the article was later published.
  3. Keeping private life private.Most people value keeping their personal lives private. However, in a case in the UK, Ms. Copland found out that her employer has been spying on her emails, phone calls, and correspondences for over three years. Her employer wanted to find out if she was in a relationship with the school director.She went to court arguing that there was an invasion of her privacy. The court agreed, and new laws now regulate how employers monitor employees’ communications.
  4. Protects LGBTI people.Until 1999, the armed forces in the UK had a ban on gay people in the military. If found out, they were relieved of their duties with immediate effect. But, shockingly, the UK high court and court of appeal found no error.It was not until the European Court of Human Rights intervened and ruled that the discharge of military personnel breached their right to private life. Then, in 2007, the ministry of defense apologized for its policy.Also, in 1975 in Northern Ireland, police questioned a gay activist, Jeffrey Dudgeon, for 4 and a half hours while going through his items and documents at his home. Though not prosecuted, he filed a complaint, and the European court ruled in his favor in 1981. Afterward, North Ireland decriminalized homosexuality.
  5. Making domestic slavery and human trafficking illegal.The modern slavery Act of 2015 came about after a woman from Uganda went to the European Court to report the UK for failing its obligation of Article 4(freedom of slavery and forced labor). The court ruled in her favor as per the convention on human rights.She has traveled to the UK from Uganda to escape sexual and physical abuse. Her relative helped her get a false visa and passport and entered the UK. However, he took her documents from her and arranged for her to be a carer for an elderly couple, but the employer sent her wages to him.When she went to the police, she collapsed in public and was later diagnosed with HIV and psychosis. However, the police informed her that, at the time, the UK didn’t consider her case a human trafficking case. So she applied to the Strasbourg court, reporting to the UK.

The European Court of Human Rights helps in advocating and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms. In exceptional cases, a court may grant an applicant interim measures. These interim measures protect the applicant from further harm before or during court case proceedings.

However, interim measures are available where there is the risk of harm, such as death, or torture, serious breach of privacy, and are predominantly availed in deportation and extradition cases. Meanwhile, interim measures can be applied by the court in any case when the court considers that irreparable and permanent human rights violation might occur at the national level, regardless of the right in question. The convention on human rights ensures that human rights are upheld while prohibiting unfair practices.

Iryna Berenstein
Associated Partner
Mrs. Berenstein is a distinguished and outstanding lawyer with profound experience and exceptional legal knowledge in the field of International Private Law, Financial Law, Corporate Law, investment regulation, Compliance, Data Protection, and Reputation Management.

European Court of Human Rights FAQ

What is the European Court of Human Rights?
The ECtHR, established in 1959 and located in Strasbourg, reviews applications alleging breaches of civil and political rights under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and its protocols by contracting states.
Who is not in the ECHR?
The ECHR's jurisdiction covers all European countries except Russia, Belarus, and the Vatican City. However, the Holy See, also known as the Vatican, holds observer status and can participate in discussions upon invitation.
Who funds the ECHR?
The Council of Europe is funded by contributions from its 47 member states, calculated based on population and gross national product. The 2023 budget for the Court is 76,816,700 euros.
Is Britain still under the ECHR?
The European Convention on Human Rights is an international treaty signed by Member States of the Council of Europe, including the UK. It outlines the rights and guarantees (Articles and Protocols) that States must respect.
Why was ECHR created?
The ECHR, or European Convention on Human Rights, was created after World War II and the Holocaust to protect people from the State, prevent future atrocities, and safeguard fundamental rights.