The European Court of Human Rights

Seminar Paper, 2006

16 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of Contents

Fact Sheet
1. Historical background of the Court
A. Background on the Council of Europe and the European Convention of Human Rights in relation to the Court
B. Subsequent developments
2. Structure and organization of the Court
3. The admissibility procedure and the effect of the Court
4. Budget

1. Introduction
2. Current case-load of the ECHR
3. Enlargement of the Council of Europe and its applications for the Court
4. Possible solutions to current issues and developments within the ECHR
5. Conclusion


Fact Sheet

1. Historical background of the Court

Headquartered in Strasbourg France, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) was established to in 1959 enforce the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, concluded under the aegis of the Council of Europe.[1] The Court, by absorbing the expansive provisions of the European Convention alongside its “living document” philosophy of interpretation, has irrefutably become a powerful international organization in the area of human rights. Indeed, the Court through its progressive social agenda upheld by the forty-six member states of the Council has grown into one of the largest, and perhaps most exemplary international judicial bodies.[2]

A. Background on the Council of Europe and the European Convention of Human Rights in relation to the Court

The Council of Europe, formally established in 1949 by the Treaty of London with the stated aim of enhancing the cultural, social, and political life of Europe, has an extensive agenda covering the areas of human rights, and social issues within Europe. The original impetus for the formation of the Council was the result of post World War efforts at reconstructing Europe, particularly by enhancing democratic values and by creating a common European ideological framework which stressed individual, civil and political rights, in light of Communist convictions and Soviet domination in Eastern Europe.[3] Borrowing profoundly from the U.N’s 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights,[4] the Council sought to create its first treaty, the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, which subsequently opened for signature in Rome on November 4, 1950 and entered into force on September 3, 1953.[5] By laying down an accord of civil and political rights and freedoms, the Convention set up a mechanism for the enforcement of these obligations inherited by contracting states. It is important to note however, that Protocol No.11 which will be subsequently explained in greater detail below has completely reorganized the Conventions enforcement mechanism.

Three original organs were delegated with the responsibility of the enforcement of the Convention, first and foremost, the European Court of Human Rights (1959), secondly, the European Commission of Human Rights (1954), and thirdly, the Council’s Committee of Ministers.[6] Initially, under the Convention, complaints could be brought against contracting states either by other contracting states, or by individual applicants (individuals, groups of individuals or NGOs). However, right of individual application formerly made possible by Protocol No. 9, was non-compulsory, and thus could be exercised only against states which accepted it.[7] The Court then had the supremacy to make a final decision as to whether a state had acted in breach of its obligations under the Convention and to award ‘just satisfaction’ to the injured party when it deemed so necessary. The decision of the Court was binding on contracting parties, and compliance to decisions seems to be generally high, when compared to other human rights treaties.[8]

B. Subsequent developments

Since the Conventions initial onset, thirteen protocols (amendments to the Convention take the form of protocols) have been adopted. These protocols include both procedural and substantive matters. The substantive Protocols No. 1, 4, 6, 7, 12 and 13, contain various supplementary rights and liberties to those guaranteed under the Convention, including the protection of property (Protocol No.1), the abolition of the death penalty (Protocol No. 6), and non-discrimination regarding any legal right (Protocol No.12). The remaining protocols concern the organisation and procedure before Convention institutions, and perhaps the most significant of these protocols being that of Protocol No.11, or the necessity of reform to the Convention’s enforcement mechanism.[9]

From the 1980s onwards, due to the vast growth in the number of cases brought before the Court it became increasingly more challenging to keep the length of proceedings within acceptable time limits. The problem was deeply exasperated by the accession of new contracting states, primarily from the collapse of the former Soviet Union in the wake of the 1990s.[10] Arguably, it seemed the Court was becoming a victim of its own success. The number of petitions grew so great that it often took many years for cases to come before the Commission. The number of applications registered annually with the Commission amplified from 404 in 1981 to 4,750 in 1997.[11] In 2002 alone, the Court received 30,828 initial applications and delivered 844 judgments, compared with 4,246 applications and 26 judgments in 1988.[12] In order to try to expedite matters and to create a more judicial and less political system, Protocol No. 11 was adopted. The purpose was to simplify the previous structure by shortening the length of case proceedings whilst strengthening the judicial character of the system.[13] Protocol No. 11, came into force on November 1, 1998, and replaced the existing, part-time operating Court and Commission by a single, full-time Court. The protocol, which required ratification by all contracting states, dissolved the Commission, as well as the adjudicative role of the Committee of Ministers. It also provided the compulsory jurisdiction of the right to individual petition that was previously deemed non-compulsory.[14] From its force into entry, Protocol No.11 has witnessed at an unprecedented growth rate in case load within the Court. This has produced cause for concern regarding the Court’s capability to handle the growing quantity of cases handed before it, leading to speculation of future Court reform.

2. Structure and organization of the Court

Amended under Protocol No. 11, the new European Court of Human Rights consists of a number of judges equal to the number of the Council of Europe’s member states, or contracting parties which currently stands at forty-six. However, it is imperative note, that there is no requirement of such that each state must be represented by the Court, nor are there any restrictions to the number of judges of the same nationality.[15] Judges are elected by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and are elected from a list of three candidates nominated by a contracting state. The terms of office last for six years, and expire when judges reach the age of seventy.[16] Additionally, it is essential to add, that judges sit on the Court in their individual capacity and do not represent any State, however in the event where his or her state is a respondent, they must sit as a judge ex officio.[17]

The Court is divided into four sections, whose composition is fixed for three years. Cases are heard by Chambers of seven judges within each section based on rotation. The composition of a section is geographically and gender balanced, and takes into account the different legal systems of contracting states.[18]

The Grand Chamber of the Court is composed of seventeen judges, who include the president, vice-presidents and section presidents, as ex officio members. The plenary Court elects the president, two vice-presidents and two presidents of the section for a period of three years.[19] At present, the president of the Court is Mr. Luzius Wildhaber (Swiss), followed by the two vice-presidents including Mr. Christos Rozakis (Greek), and Mr. Jean-Paul Costa (French).[20]

3. The admissibility procedure and the effect of the Court

The Court can accept complaints of violations from any contracting state (state application), and under Article 34, any individual claiming to be a victim of a violation under the Convention (individual application).[21] The official languages of the Court are English and French, but applications may be submitted in one of the official languages of the contracting state. Additionally, the procedures of the ECHR are made public.[22]

Complaints of violations are assigned to a section, where a judge rapporteur determines whether or not the case should be referred to a three-member committee or by the Chamber. By unanimous vote, the committee may decide to declare an application admissible or inadmissible. The first stage of the Court procedure is commonly written, although the Chamber may decide to hold a public hearing, in which case issues arising in relation to the merits will normally be addressed. Decisions on admissibility, which in the end are decided by a majority vote, must contain rationale behind their reasoning, and must be made open to the public. Once the Chamber has decided to admit the application, it may invite the parties to submit further evidence, including any claims for ‘just satisfaction’ by the applicant. The president of the Chamber may also request or grant leave to any contracting state or party involved which is not formally part of Court proceedings. Moreover, any contracting state whose national is an applicant in a case proceeding is entitled to intervene.[23]

Within three months of the judgment delivery, any party may request that the case be referred to the Grand Chamber if believed that the judgment raises ambiguity in interpretation or in its appliance. A Chamber’s judgment becomes final on expiry of the three month period, or earlier if parties have no further intention of requesting a referral. If the panel accepts the request, the Grand Chamber renders its decision on the case, and formulates a judgment. All Grand Chamber’s decisions are determined by a majority vote, and in their entirety, are considered final, and become binding on the respondent states concerned. The execution of judgments falls within the responsibility realm of the Committee of Ministers in the Council of Europe. The Committee of Ministers verifies whether states have or have not taken the adequate remedial measures in compliance with obligations outlined by judgments of the Court.[24]

The Court may also, at the request of the Committee of Ministers, give advisory opinions on legal questions concerning the interpretation of the Convention. Advisory opinions are given by the Grand Chamber and adopted by a majority vote.[25]


[1] European Court of Human Rights:

[2] Bonat, 2005.

[3] Council of Europe:

[4] Bonat, 2005.

[5] European Court of Human Rights:

[6] Ibid,.

[7] European Court of Human Rights:

[8] Bonat, 2005.

[9] European Court of Human Rights:

[10] Ibid,.

[11] Ibid,.

[12] Bonat, 2005.

[13] European Court of Human Rights:

[14] Bonat, 2005.

[15] European Court of Human Rights:

[16] Bonat, 2005.

[17] Ibid,.

[18] European Court of Human Rights:

[19] Bonat, 2005.

[20] European Court of Human Rights:

[21] Bonat, 2005.

[22] Lawson, 1997, pp 37-38.

[23] European Court of Human Rights:

[24] Ibid,.

[25] Ibid,.

Excerpt out of 16 pages


The European Court of Human Rights
University of Münster  (Politikwissenschaft - European Studies)
European Institutions
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ISBN (Book)
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European, Court, Human, Rights, European, Institutions
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Susanne Taron (Author), 2006, The European Court of Human Rights, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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