European Court: organisation

European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms is an international treaty protecting human rights. It sets out the basic human rights and freedoms and defines their scope. All the Member States of the Council of Europe are abide by its provisions and shall secure them to any individual and non-governmental organisation within their jurisdiction. The Convention was opened for signature on 4 November 1950 and entered into force on 3 September 1953. All new members of the Council of Europe are obliged to sign the Convention upon accession and ratify it at the earliest opportunity.


Rights and prohibitions

The Convention and a number of Protocols to it provide for, in particular, the following rights and freedoms:

• the right to fair hearing in criminal and civil cases;

• the right to life, personal security, liberty;

• freedom of expression, thought, conscious and religion, political opinion;

• participation in the choice of legislature, both as a candidate and as a voter;

• freedom of peaceful assembly and association;

• protection of property;

• the right to education;

• the right to marriage and equal rights between spouses;

• the right to appeal in criminal matters;

• compensation for wrongful conviction;

• freedom of movement.


The Convention and its Protocols prohibit in particular:

• torture, inhuman or degrading treatment;

• death penalty;

• conviction in the absence of established guilt;

• discrimination;

• slavery and compulsory labour;

• expulsion of national and collective expulsion of aliens;


The Convention established a functioning mechanism of human rights protection, the principal element of which is the European Court of Human Rights tasked with examining individual complaints from persons and non-governmental organisations alleging a violation of their rights set forth in the Convention by one or more of the State Parties. Therefore, the Court’s role is to protect victims of human rights violations from abuses on the part of the domestic authorities. The Court is a permanent international tribunal, located in Strasbourg, France. Since its opening on 21 January 1959, the Court has been ensuring the compliance of the Council of Europe Member States with their obligations under the Convention.

The Court consists of a number of judges equal to the number of member States of the Council of Europe who ratified the European Convention (currently 47). Judges are elected for non-renewable nine-year period (or until reaching the age of 70) by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe from the list of candidates provided by the respective states.

Apart from examination of individual and inter-state applications, the Court also interprets the provisions of the Convention.

The Court examines the cases pending before it in a number of judicial formations: single judge formation, committees of three judges, Chambers, consisting of 7 judges and the Grand Chamber which is composed of 17 judges of the Court. Sitting in a single-judge formation the Court (a judge) can examine complaints only in the aspect concerning their admissibility (formal compliance with Articles 34 and 35 of the Convention) and not on the merits. A single judge cannot deal with cases lodged against a country of his origin, in respect of which he or she was elected. If a single judge cannot for any reason take decision on the admissibility of an application, it should be referred either to a committee of three judges, or to one of the Chambers. Committees and Chambers as judicial formations are set up and function within five administrative entities called Sections (formally there is also the sixth one – the Filtering Section which deals only with clearly inadmissible case or improperly completed application forms). The Sections are formed on the basis of geographical and gender balance and reflect the different legal systems among the Contracting Parties to the Convention. Each Section has a President, Vice-President and a Section Registrar.

Committees of three judges formed with the Sections similarly to single judges can deal with inadmissible cases, but their main function is the cases falling under the category of “well-established case-law” of the Court (i.e. which are similar to the cases already examined by the Court and do not disclose any complex issues of law or fact). Judgments and decisions of the Committees have immediate effect and are not a subject to appeal to any other judicial formation.

The Chambers of seven judges formed within the Sections, is the core judicial formation of the entire organisation. According to the Rules of Court, the Chambers are formed in rotation from among the members of the relevant Section. The Chamber, when examining a case against any of the State Members, shall include the judge elected in respect of this State. Following the examination of a case by one of the Chambers and delivery of a judgment, parties may ask the Court to refer the case for re-examination to the Grand Chamber of the Court (in exceptional cases a Chamber can relinquish jurisdiction in favour of the Grand Chamber on its own motion).

The Grand Chamber consists of 17 judges. Normally, the President of the Court presides in its hearings. It deals with the inter-state cases or individual complaints raising serious questions affecting the interpretation of the Convention or its Protocols, or where the resolution of a case before a Chamber might have a result inconsistent with a judgment previously delivered by the Court or if there is a necessity to settle contradictions in the Court’s case-law. The Grand Chamber also adopts advisory opinions at the request from the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe.

It also has the Plenary, which elects the Court’s President, Vice-Presidents, Registrar and his or her Deputies, enacts the Rules of Court and amendments to them and deals with other administrative matters.