Interim measures

What are interim measures?

The European Court of Human Rights has the authority, as outlined in Rule 39 of its Rules of Court, to issue temporary measures to any State that is a party to the European Convention on Human Rights. These temporary measures, known as interim measures, are designed to address imminent threats of irreparable harm. It’s important to note that these measures are decided upon within the context of ongoing court proceedings and do not prejudge any future decisions related to the admissibility or merits of the case.

In most instances, the applicant seeks the suspension of actions such as deportation or extradition. The Court grants requests for interim measures in exceptional circumstances, typically when applicants would otherwise face a genuine risk of severe and irreversible harm.

Interim measures are applied only in limited situations: the most typical cases are ones in which there
are fears of

  • a threat to life (situation falling under Article 2 of the Convention) or
  • ill-treatment prohibited by Article 3 of the Convention (prohibition of torture and inhuman
    or degrading treatment).

Once these measures are granted, they are communicated to the government representing the respondent. However, there’s also the possibility for the Court to issue interim measures directly to the applicants. The Court’s practice involves carefully evaluating each request on an individual and prioritized basis through a written procedure. Both applicants and governments are informed of the Court’s decisions regarding interim measures, and it’s important to note that refusals to apply Rule 39 cannot be appealed.

The duration of an interim measure is usually set to cover the entire duration of the proceedings before the Court or for a shorter, specified period. Importantly, the application of Rule 39 may be terminated at any time by a decision of the Court, especially if the underlying application is no longer being pursued as these measures are closely linked to the ongoing legal proceedings.

Interim measures requests related to the Covid-19 health crisis

Between March 2020 and April 2023, the Court dealt with approximately 375 requests for interim measures linked to the Covid-19 health crisis. These requests primarily came from individuals held in detention facilities or asylum seeker and migrant reception/detention centers. They were lodged against countries such as Greece, Italy, Turkey, and France, as well as Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Germany, Malta, Romania, and Russia. The nature of these requests varied significantly.

Typically, Rule 39 of the Rules of Court pertains to matters like deportations or extraditions. However, since mid-March 2020, most requests have centered around applicants seeking the Court’s intervention to either release them from detention or implement measures to safeguard their health against Covid-19 infection risks.

The majority of these requests were individual applications, with many of them being rejected. In some instances, the Court delayed its decision and sought additional information from the relevant government authorities. In a few cases, Rule 39 was applied, particularly for individuals in vulnerable categories such as unaccompanied minors or those with serious medical conditions, including pregnant women.

The Court also received requests for interim measures related to vaccination mandates. These requests came from medical professionals, healthcare facility employees, and firefighters who opposed compulsory vaccination. However, these requests were rejected as they fell outside the scope of Rule 39. Similarly, requests challenging the use of Covid-19 certificates, which restricted access to public places and public transport to only certificate holders, were also rejected under Rule 39.

A minority of requests for general measures, such as demands for city-wide lockdowns, were submitted to the Court, but these were also rejected.

Requests for interim measures

According to Rule 39 of the Rules of Court, the Court has the authority to issue interim measures that are legally binding on the concerned State.

Interim measures are only applied in exceptional circumstances. The Court will instruct a member State to implement such measures only if, after a thorough examination of all pertinent information, it concludes that the applicant would otherwise face an immediate risk of irreparable harm.

Applicants or their representatives who seek interim measures under Rule 39 of the Rules of Court must adhere to the following requirements:

Providing Supporting Information

Any request submitted to the Court must be accompanied by a reasoned explanation. In particular, the applicant must provide a detailed explanation of the grounds for their specific concerns, the nature of the alleged risks, and the specific provisions of the Convention that are believed to have been violated.

Mere references to submissions made in other documents or domestic legal proceedings are insufficient. It is crucial that requests include all essential supporting documents, including relevant domestic court decisions, tribunal rulings, or any other materials that support the applicant’s claims.

Requests that lack the necessary information for a decision will typically not be presented to a judge, and the Court may not necessarily contact applicants with incomplete requests.

If the case is already pending before the Court, it should reference the assigned application number. In cases involving deportation or extradition, specific details such as the expected date and time of removal, the applicant’s address or place of detention, and the official case-reference number should be provided. Any changes to these details, such as the removal date and address, must be promptly reported to the Court.

Whenever possible, the request should be submitted in one of the official languages of the Contracting Parties. The Court may decide to concurrently assess the case’s admissibility while considering the request for interim measures.

Submission of Requests

Requests for interim measures should be dispatched without delay following the conclusion of the final domestic decision. This timely submission allows the Court and its Registry sufficient time for thorough examination. Requests related to expulsion or extradition cases received less than one working day before the scheduled removal may not be feasible for the Court to process.

In situations where the final domestic decision is impending, and there is a risk of immediate enforcement, particularly in expulsion or extradition cases, applicants and their representatives should not wait for that decision to be made. Instead, they should promptly submit their request for interim measures. It is important to clearly state the expected date of the final domestic decision and acknowledge that the request is contingent upon the outcome of that decision being unfavorable.

Domestic measures with suspensive effect

The Court does not entertain appeals against rulings made by domestic courts. In cases involving expulsion or extradition, applicants should first pursue domestic remedies that have the potential to suspend the removal before turning to the Court for interim measures. When applicants still have the option to pursue domestic remedies that can halt the removal process, the Court will not invoke Rule 39 to prevent the removal.

The Solution of Interim Measures

The EU Courts have the authority to issue “interim measures” to safeguard the interests of parties challenging EU measures until the relevant EU Court reaches a verdict in the primary legal action. These measures offer provisional legal protection and are supplementary to the main legal proceedings. Consequently, requests for interim measures are considered admissible only when the applicant contests the disputed decision on its merits in one of the EU Courts.

To secure an interim measures order, applicants must demonstrate that waiting for the outcome of the primary action would result in severe and irreparable harm. In order to prevent such harm and ensure the full effectiveness of the judgment in the main action, EU Courts may, as part of interim measures, do the following: suspend the operation of the contested EU measure and/or impose any other necessary remedies.

In exceptional cases, EU Courts may grant interim relief on a precautionary basis ex parte—meaning, without hearing from the opposing party—until a final decision in the interim proceedings is reached. If the General Court rejects an application for interim measures, the applicant can appeal that decision on legal grounds to the Court of Justice. Furthermore, if the General Court dismisses the primary action, a party appealing the judgment to the Court of Justice may request the Court of Justice to suspend the operative part of the General Court’s judgment.

Conditions for Granting Interim Measures

Due to the significant impact interim measures can have, the EU Courts impose stringent criteria for applicants to meet for their application to be granted. Firstly, the application must meet specific admissibility criteria. Secondly, for a successful application, the applicant must demonstrate the fulfillment of three essential conditions: fumus boni juris (a plausible case), urgency, and a balance of interests favoring the applicant.

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.

Interim measures FAQ

What are the interim measures by court?
Interim measures are urgent actions taken when there's an imminent risk of irreparable harm, following the Court's practice.
What are interim measures in the UK?
Interim measures, equivalent to injunctions in UK law, are a crucial part of legal proceedings. They temporarily halt actions that could cause irreparable harm until the court can make a ruling. They are essential for achieving justice.
What are interim measures in international law?
Interim measures can compel a State to take action, like protecting activists or delaying extradition, or to refrain from actions, such as not executing prisoners until their cases are resolved.
What is the purpose of interim measures?
An interim measure is a temporary court order issued early in a dispute, requiring a party to either act or refrain from acting to preserve the status quo.