European Court of Human Rights

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European Court of Human Rights
The European Court of Human Rights ( French: Cour européenne des droits de l’homme) in Strasbourg is a supra-national court, established by the European Convention on Human Rights, which provides legal recourse of last resort for individuals who feel that their human rights have been violated by a contracting party to the Convention. Application before the court can also be brought by other contracting parties. The Convention was adopted under the auspices of the Council of Europe, all 47 of whose member states are parties to the Convention.

History and structure
The Court was instituted as a permanent entity with full-time judges on 1 November 1998, replacing the then existing enforcement mechanisms, which included the European Commission of Human Rights (created in 1954) and the European Court of Human Rights, which had been created in 1959. The new format of the Court was the result of the ratification of Protocol 11, an amendment to the Convention that was ratified in November 1998. The new full-time judges were subsequently elected by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. The first President of the court was Luzius Wildhaber. By the time Protocol No. 11 entered into force on 1 November 1998 establishing a full-time Court and opening up direct access for 800 million Europeans, the Court had delivered 837 judgements. By the end of 2005 it had delivered 5,968 judgements. All member states of the Council of Europe are required to sign and ratify the Convention. The Court consists of a number of judges equal to the number of Contracting Parties, which currently stand at 47. Each judge is elected in respect of a Contracting Party by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Despite this correspondence, however, there are no nationality requirements for judges (e.g. a Swiss national may be elected in respect of Liechtenstein). Judges are assumed to be impartial arbiters, rather than representatives of any country. Judges are elected to six-year terms and may be re-elected. The Court is divided into five "Sections", each of which consists of a geographic and gender-balanced selection of justices. The entire Court elects a President and five Section Presidents, two of whom also serve as Vice-Presidents; all terms last for three years. Each section selects a Chamber, which consists of the Section President and a rotating selection of six other justices. The Court also maintains a 17-member Grand Chamber, which consists of the President, Vice-Presidents, and Section Presidents, in addition to a rotating selection of justices from one of two balanced groups. The selection of judges alternates between the groups every nine months. Between 2006 and 2010, Russia had been the only one of 47 participating states to refuse to ratify Protocol 14, which was intended to accelerate the court’s work, partly by reducing the number of judges required to make important decisions. In 2010, Russia ended its opposition to the protocol, in exchange for a guarantee that Russian judges would be involved in reviewing complaints against Russia.

Complaints of violations by member states are filed in Strasbourg, and assigned to a Section. Complaints considered to be unmeritorious may be dismissed by a single judge. Complaints considered to be meritorious are examined by a Chamber. Decisions of great importance may be appealed to the Grand Chamber. A decision of the Court is binding on the member states and must be complied with, unless if it consists of an advisory opinion. It is the role of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe to supervise the execution of Court judgements. This body cannot force states to comply, and the ultimate sanction for non-compliance is expulsion from the Council of Europe.

Judges and sections
The court has 5 sections and the 47 judges are selected from the member states of the Council of Europe. The Plenary Court elects the Registrar and one or more Deputy Registrars. The Registrar is the head of the Registry, which performs legal and administrative tasks and drafts decisions and judgements on behalf of the Court. As of 4 January 2007 the Registrar of the court is Erik Fribergh and the Deputy Registrar is Michael O'Boyle.

In 1999 the court had a backlog of 60,000 cases. A figure which grew to about 100,000 cases in 2007, and to over 120,000 in early 2010. Owing to its large workload some cases were taking up to five years before being decided and there was a significant backlog. Working on the principle that " justice delayed is justice denied", the Council of Europe set up a working party to consider ways of improving the efficiency of the Court. This resulted in the drafting of a protocol to the convention " protocol 14 " which was finally ratified by all member states on 1 June 2010. The entrance into force of protocol 14 now means that:
  • A single judge can decide on a case's admissibility; previously, three judges were required.
  • Where cases are broadly similar to ones brought previously before the Court, and are essentially due to a member state failing to comply with a previous judgement, the case can be decided by three judges rather than the seven-judge Chamber.
  • A case may not be admissible if it is considered that the applicant has not suffered a 'significant disadvantage'; however, this is not a rigid rule.
  • A member state can be brought before the Court by the Committee of Ministers if that state refuses to enforce a judgement.
  • The Committee of Ministers can ask the Court for an 'interpretation' of a judgement to help determine the best way for a member state to comply.
While Alex Bailin and Alison Macdonald opined in the Guardian that protocol 14 would help enable the court to force states to comply with human rights obligations, Amnesty International has expressed concern that these changes to the admissibility criteria will mean individuals may lose the ability to 'gain redress for human rights violations'.

Relationship with other courts

The European Court of Justice
The Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ) is not related to the European Court of Human Rights. However, since all EU states are members of the Council of Europe and have signed the Convention on Human Rights, there are concerns about consistency in case law between the two courts. Therefore, the ECJ refers to the case-law of the Court of Human Rights and treats the Convention on Human Rights as though it was part of the EU's legal system. Even though its members have joined, the European Union itself has not, as it did not have competence to do so under previous treaties. However, EU institutions are bound under article 6 of the EU treaty of Nice to respect human rights under the Convention. Furthermore, since the Treaty of Lisbon has taken effect on 1 December 2009, the EU is expected to sign the Convention. This would make the Court of Justice bound by the judicial precedents of the Court of Human Rights and thus be subject to its human rights law, resolving this way the issue of conflicting case law.

National courts
Most of the Contracting Parties to the European Convention on Human Rights have incorporated the Convention into their own national legal orders, either through constitutional provision, statute or judicial decision. Incorporation, coupled with the entry of force of Protocol No. 11, has dramatically enhanced the status of Convention rights, and the impact of the case law of European Court of Human Rights. National judges, elected officials, and administrators are now under increasing pressure to make Convention rights effective within national systems.

The building, which houses the court chambers and Registry (administration and référendaires), was designed by the Richard Rogers Partnership and completed in 1995. The design is meant to reflect, amongst other things, the two distinct components of the Commission and Court (as it was then). Wide scale use of glass emphasises the 'openness' of the court to European citizens.

Building Activity

  • OpenBuildings
    OpenBuildings updated 35 media and added a digital reference
    about 6 years ago via