European Court of Human Rights
What is the European Court of Human Rights?
The European Court of Human Rights is an international court based in Strasbourg. 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 forty-five2 . 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.
What is the European Convention on 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 establishes 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.
What does the European Court of Human Rights do?
The Court applies the European Convention on Human Rights. Its task is to ensure that States respect the rights and guarantees set out in the Convention. It does this by examining complaints (known as “applications”) lodged by individuals or, sometimes, by States. Where it finds that a member State has violated one or more of these rights and guarantees, the Court delivers a judgment. Judgments are binding: the countries concerned are under an obligation to comply with them.
When can I apply to the European Court of Human Rights?
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 violation must have been committed by one of the States bound by the Convention.
What rights are protected by the Convention and its Protocols?
The following rights, in particular, are protected:
· the right to life;
· the right to a fair hearing in civil and criminal matters;
· the right to respect for private and family life;
· freedom of expression;
· freedom of thought, conscience and religion;
· the right to an effective remedy;
· the right to the peaceful enjoyment of possessions;
· and the right to vote and to stand for election
What do the Convention and its Protocols prohibit?
The following, in particular, are prohibited:
· torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment;
· arbitrary and unlawful detention;
· discrimination in the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set out in the Convention;
· the expulsion by a State of its own nationals or its refusing them entry;
· the death penalty;
· and the collective expulsion of aliens.
What conditions do I have to satisfy to lodge an application?
What are the conditions relating to me personally?
· You do not need to be a national of one of States bound by the Convention.
The violation you are complaining of must simply have been committed by
one of those States within its “jurisdiction”, which usually means within its territory.
· You can be a private individual or a legal entity such as a company or association.
· You must have directly and personally been the victim of the violation you are alleging.
You cannot make a general complaint about a law or a measure, for example because it
seems unfair; nor can you complain on behalf of other people (unless they are clearly
identified and you are their official representative).
Are there any procedures that must be followed beforehand in the national courts?
· Yes. You must have used all the remedies in the State concerned that might have been able to redress the situation you are complaining about (usually, this will mean an application to the appropriate court, followed by an appeal, where applicable,and even a further appeal to a higher court such as the supreme court or
constitutional court, if there is one). For Serbia this includes the constitutional appeal before the Constitutional Court of Serbia.
· It is not enough merely to make use of these remedies. In so doing, you must also
have actually raised your complaints (that is, the substance of the Convention
violations you are alleging).
· You have only six months from the date of the final decision at domestic level
(generally speaking, the judgment of the highest court) to lodge an application.
After that period your application cannot be accepted by the Court.
Against whom can I lodge an application?
· Against one or more of the States bound by the Convention which, in your opinion,
has/have (through one or more acts or omissions directly affecting you) violated the
European Convention on Human Rights.
· The act or omission complained of must have been by one or more public authorities in
the State(s) concerned (for example, a court or an administrative authority).
· The Court cannot deal with complaints against individuals or private institutions,
such as commercial companies.
What can my application be about?
· Your application must relate to one of the rights set out in the European Convention
on Human Rights. Alleged violations may cover a wide range of issues, such as:
torture and ill-treatment of prisoners; lawfulness of detention; shortcomings in civil or
criminal trials; discrimination in the exercise of a Convention right; parental rights;
respect for private life, family life, the home and correspondence; restrictions on
expressing an opinion or on imparting or receiving information; freedom to take part in
an assembly or demonstration; expulsion and extradition; confiscation of property;
· You cannot complain of a violation of any legal instrument other than the European
Convention on Human Rights, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or the
Charter of Fundamental Rights.
How should I apply to the Court if I consider myself to be the victim of a violation of the Convention?
By sending a letter to the Court giving clear details of your complaint (in which case you
will receive an application form3 which must be filled out) or by filling out an application
form directly. The letter and/or application form should be sent 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.
· If you lodge your application by fax, you must also send a copy by post.
· Do not come to Strasbourg in person to state your case orally. Your case will not be
examined any more quickly and you will not receive any legal advice.
· The Registry may ask you for additional documents, information or explanations
relating to your complaints.
· As soon as you have a copy of the application form, you should fill it out carefully and
legibly and return it as quickly as possible. It must contain:
· 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 send
with the form your authority4 for him or her to act on your behalf.
What are the main features of the proceedings?
If your application or one of your complaints is declared admissible, the Court will encourage the parties (you and the State concerned) to reach a friendly settlement. If no settlement is reached, the Court will consider the application “on the merits” – that is, it will determine whether or not there has been a violation of the Convention.