European Court: procedure and practice

Proceedings before the Court are initiated by individual complaints (lodged by persons, groups of individuals or noon-governmental organisations). The Court also can accept for examination inter-state applications concerning alleged violations of the Conventions lodged by one by or several member States of the Council of Europe against other State member(s). The Court examines all complaints free of charge.

The Court’s function is to establish whether there has been a violation of the Convention in each case brought to its examination. It also can make just satisfaction (usually in the form of monetary awards) to the applicants whose rights were violated by one or several Member States, as well as to order the reimbursement of costs and expenses incurred by an applicant in connection with the proceedings (including transport and clerical expenses, cost of translations, lawyer’s fees, etc.). Moreover, if an applicant does not have financial means to bear the necessary expenses in the course of proceedings (e.g., to pay the lawyer’s fees) the Court may assist him or her by granting free legal aid (only after the communication of a case to the Respondent Government). In order to obtain it, an applicant shall request the Court accordingly and provide it with a financial declaration.


The Court examines only complaints related to one or more of the rights set out only in the Convention and Protocols to it. Despite being quite broad in the scope of its guarantees, the Convention does not cover all human rights, especially the modern ones which are stipulated in the most recent constitutional law of modern countries, e.g. right to social security, right to work and other rights guaranteed by more “young” international instruments such as the European Social Charter. Such rights and complaints based on them do not fall within the competence of the Court.


The Court does not act as an appeal or cassation instance in respect of the domestic courts and does not have powers to amend or quash decisions taken by the state courts or give directions to the domestic legislator. The Court cannot substitute the domestic court in their findings of fact or law (except for the cases o manifest arbitrariness on their part) and neither can it decided on individual’s or organisation’s guilt. Its main function is to verify the States’ compliance with the requirements of the Convention.