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The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ( ) in Strasbourgmarker is an international judicial body established under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) of 1950 to monitor respect of human rights by states. The European Convention on Human Rights, or formally named Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, is a convention adopted by the Council of Europe. All 47 member states of the Council of Europe are parties to the Convention. Applications against Contracting Parties for human rights violations can be brought before the Court by other states, other parties or individuals.

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.

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 judgments. By the end of 2005 it had delivered 5,968 judgments.

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.


Court room of the ECtHR
Complaints of violations by member states are filed in Strasbourgmarker, and assigned to a Section. Unmeritorious complaints are dismissed by a committee of three judges by a unanimous vote. Meritorious complaints are examined by a Chamber. Decisions of great importance may be appealed to the Grand Chamber. Any decision of the Court is binding on the member states and must be complied with, except 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 judgments. This body cannot force states to comply, and the ultimate sanction for non-compliance is expulsion from the Council of Europe.


As of 23 Dec 2008 (in order of precedence):

Name Country Position Elected Term Ends
Jean-Paul Costa Francemarker President 1998 2010
Christos Rozakis Greecemarker Vice-President 1998 2010
Sir Nicolas Bratza United Kingdommarker Vice-President 1998 2010
Peer Lorenzen Denmarkmarker Section President 1998 2010
Françoise Tulkens Belgiummarker Section President 1998 2010
Josep Casadevall Andorramarker Section President 1998 2010
Giovanni Bonello Maltamarker Judge 1998 2010
Loukis Loucaides Cyprusmarker Judge 1998 2010
Ireneu Cabral Barreto Portugalmarker Judge 1998 2010
Ayşe Işıl Karakaş Turkeymarker Judge 2008 2017
Corneliu Bîrsan Romaniamarker Judge 1998 2010
Karel Jungwiert Czech Republicmarker Judge 1998 2010
Volodymyr Butkevych Ukrainemarker Judge 1998 2010
Boštjan Zupančič Sloveniamarker Judge 1998 2010
Nina Vajić Croatiamarker Judge 1998 2010
Margarita Tsatsa-Nikolovska Macedoniamarker Judge 1998 2010
András Baka Hungarymarker Ad Litem Judge 1998 2010
Rait Maruste Estoniamarker Ad Litem Judge 1998 2010
Kristaq Traja Albaniamarker Ad Litem Judge 1998 2010
Snejana Botoucharova Bulgariamarker Ad Litem Judge 1998 2010
Nona Tsotsoria Georgiamarker Ad Litem Judge 2008
Anatoly Kovler Russiamarker Ad Litem Judge 1999 2011
Vladimiro Zagrebelsky Italymarker Ad Litem Judge 2001 2007
Antonella Mularoni San Marinomarker Ad Litem Judge 2001 2007
Elisabeth Steiner Austriamarker Ad Litem Judge 2001 2007
Stanislav Pavlovschi Moldovamarker Ad Litem Judge 2001 2007
Lech Garlicki Polandmarker Ad Litem Judge 2002 2008
Javier Borrego Borrego Spainmarker Ad Litem Judge 2003 2009
Elisabet Fura-Sandström Swedenmarker Ad Litem Judge 2003 2009
Alvina Gyulumyan Armeniamarker Ad Litem Judge 2003 2009
Khanlar Hajiyev Azerbaijanmarker Ad Litem Judge 2004 2010
Ljiljana Mijović Bosnia and Herzegovinamarker Ad Litem Judge 2004 2010
Renate Jaeger Germanymarker Ad Litem Judge 2004 2010
Egbert Myjer Netherlandsmarker Ad Litem Judge 2004 2010
Sverre Erik Jebens Norwaymarker Ad Litem Judge 2004 2010
Davið Þór Björgvinsson Icelandmarker Ad Litem Judge 2004 2010
Danutė Jočienė Lithuaniamarker Ad Litem Judge 2004 2010
Ján Šikuta Slovakiamarker Ad Litem Judge 2004 2010
Dragoljub Popović Serbiamarker Ad Litem Judge 2005 2011
Ineta Ziemele Latviamarker Ad Litem Judge 2005 2011
Mark Villiger Liechtensteinmarker Ad Litem Judge 2006 2012
Isabelle Berro-Lefevre Monacomarker Ad Litem Judge 2006 2012
Päivi Hirvelä Finlandmarker Ad Litem Judge 2007 2013
Giorgio Malinverni Switzerlandmarker Ad Litem Judge 2007 2013

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 judgments on behalf of the Court. The Registrar and Deputy Registrar as of 4 January 2007 are:


Composition of the Sections (2007)
Position Section I Section II Section III Section IV Section V
Section President Mr C.L. Rozakis Mrs F. Tulkens Mr B.M. Zupančič Sir Nicolas Bratza Mr P. Lorenzen
Section Vice-President Mr L. Loucaides Mr A.B. Baka Mr C. Birsan Mr J. Casadevall Mrs S. Botoucharova
Judge Mrs N. Vajić Mr I. Cabral Barreto Mr J.-P. Costa Mr G. Bonello Mr K. Jungwiert
Judge Mr A. Kovler Mr R. Türmen Mrs E. Fura-Sandstrom Mr K. Traja Mr V. Butkevych
Judge Mrs E. Steiner Mr M. Ugrekhelidze Mrs A. Gyulumyan Mr S. Pavlovschi Mrs M. Tsatsa-Nikolovska
Judge Mr K. Hajiyev Mr V. Zagrebelsky Mr E. Myjer Mr L. Garlicki Mr R. Maruste
Judge Mr D. Spielmann Mrs A. Mularoni Mr D. Björgvinsson Mrs L. Mijović Mr J. Borrego Borrego
Judge Mr S. E. Jebens Mrs D. Jočienė Mrs I. Ziemele Mr J. Šikuta Mrs R. Jaeger
Judge Mr G. Malinverni Mr D. Popović Mrs I. Berro-Lefèvre Mrs P. Hirvelä Mr M. Villiger
Section Registrar S. Nielsen S. Dollé S. Quesada L. Early C. Westerdiek
Deputy Section Registrar A. Wampach F. Elens-Passos S. Naismith F. Araçi S. Phillips


Due to the increase in awareness of European citizens of their rights under the Convention, the Court became a victim of its own success. Some cases were taking up to five years before being decided and there was a significant backlog. For example, according to the Human Rights Information Bulletin(issued by the Council of Europe), between 1 November 2003 and 29 February 2004 the Court dealt with 7,315 cases, of which 6,255 were declared inadmissible to help reduce the backlog.

For 2008 the Court reported that it had made 1543 judgments and that over 32,000 cases were declared inadmissible. With over 94% of cases analysed being declared inadmissible the Court has de facto moved away from its mission of protecting individual human rights and moved towards concentrating on only issues of wider legal importance, per its 2008 annual report.

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 an amendment to the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, Protocol 14. This new protocol, which requires universal ratification by all Council of Europe member states to come into force, makes a number of changes:

  • A single judge can decide on a case's admissibility; currently, three judges decide.
  • Where cases are broadly similar to ones brought previously before the Court, and are essentially due to a member state failing to change its domestic law to correct a failing highlighted by that previous judgment, 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 'significant disadvantage'; however, this is not a 'hard and fast' rule.
  • A member state can be brought before the Court by the Committee of Ministers if that state refuses to enforce a judgment.
  • 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.

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 the European Court of Justice

The Court of Justice is separate from the European Court of Human Rights.

All EU members 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. Hence the Court of Justice 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 EU as a whole has not, as it does not have competence to do so under current treaties. However, EU institutions are bound under article 6 of the EU treaty to respect human rights under the Convention. Furthermore, when the Treaty of Lisbon takes 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; this would resolve the issue of conflicting case law.

Some notable cases

Ireland v the United Kingdom (5310/71)

In December 1977, the Court ruled that the government of the United Kingdommarker was guilty of "inhuman and degrading treatment", of men interned without trial, following a case brought by the Republic of Irelandmarker (Case No. 5310/71). The Court found that while their internment was a interference of the convention rights, it was justifiable in the circumstances; it however ruled that the practice of the five techniques and the practice of beating prisoners constituted inhumane and degrading punishment in violation of the convention, although not torture.

Paton case

In 1980, the Court ruled out the foetal right to sue the mother carrying the foetus. In Paton v. United Kingdom, it was discovered that the life of foetus is "intimately connected with, and cannot be regarded in isolation from, the life of the pregnant woman".

Refah Partisi v Turkey

In upholding the Turkish Constitutional Court's dissolution of The Welfare Party (Refah Partisi) for violating Turkey's principle of secularism (by calling for the re-introduction of religious law) the court held "that sharia is incompatible with the fundamental principles of democracy." The Court justified the breach of the appellants' rights by reasoning that a legal regime based on sharia would diverge from the Convention's values, "particularly with regard to its criminal law and criminal procedure, its rules on the status of women and the way it intervenes in all spheres of private and public life in accordance with religious precepts."

Chechnya cases

Since the Russian military invaded Chechnyamarker for the second time in 1999, the Court agreed to hear cases of human rights abuse brought forward by Chechen civilians against Russia in the course of the Second Chechen War, with 31 rulings to date as of June 2008 (including regarding the cases of torture and extrajudicial executions). In 2007, the Court ruled that Russia was responsible for the killings of a human rights activist Zura Bitiyeva and her family. Bitiyeva herself had filed a complaint against Moscow with the ECHR in 2000 for abuse while in detention, in then-second case from Chechnya, but she was murdered in 2003 before the ruling was issued. Other cases ruled against Russia included the deaths (or presumed deaths after years of forced disappearance) of Ruslan Alikhadzhyev, Shakhid Baysayev, Nura Luluyeva and Khadzhi-Murat Yandiyev, the case of the indiscriminate bombing of Katyr-Yurt, and some of the deaths during the Novye Aldi massacre. As of 2008, ECHR has been flooded by a complaints from Chechnya, what the Human Rights Watch called "the last hope for the victims".

Appleby v. United Kingdom

This 2003 case involved balancing the right of freedom of speech against the rights of private property owners. The issue was whether shopping centers in new towns, by assuming the functions of traditional high streets, must also assume the responsibility of serving as a public forum. The ECHR considered and respectfully declined to follow the path blazed by the Supreme Court of Californiamarker in the landmark case of Robins v. Pruneyard Shopping Center (affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in Pruneyard Shopping Center v. Robins (1980)).

A and others v the United Kingdom

On 19 February 2009, within the case of A. and Others v. the United Kingdom, the Grand Chamber of the Court held unanimously that there had been a violation of right to liberty and security, a violation of right to have lawfulness of detention decided by a court, and violation of right to be compensated for such violations. The case concerned the applicants’ complaints that they were detained in high security conditions under a statutory scheme which permitted the indefinite detention of non-nationals certified by the Secretary of State as suspected of involvement in terrorism. The applicants were 11 individuals, six of Algerianmarker nationality; four, respectively, of French, Jordanianmarker, Moroccanmarker and Tunisianmarker nationality; and, one, born in a Palestinian refugee camp in Jordan, and thus stateless. The Court made awards under Article 41 of the European Convention on Human Rights (just satisfaction) which were substantially lower than those which it had made in past cases of unlawful detention, in view of the fact that the detention scheme was devised in the face of a public emergency and as an attempt to reconcile the need to protect the United Kingdommarker public against terrorism with the obligation not to send the applicants back to countries where they faced a real risk of ill-treatment. The Court therefore awarded, to the six Algerian applicants EUR 3,400, EUR 3,900, EUR 3,800, EUR 3,400, EUR 2,500 and EUR 1,700, respectively; to the stateless and Tunisian applicants EUR 3,900, each; and to the Jordanian applicant, EUR 2,800. The applicants were jointly awarded EUR 60,000 for legal costs.

Religious clothing

In several cases, the ECHR has allowed governments to restrict the articles of clothing their citizens may wear. In the case of Leyla Şahin v. Turkey, where adult Turkish women were refused entrance into lectures and examination rooms if they chose to wear a headscarf, the ECHR ruled in favour of the ban, arguing that it was based on the principles of secularism and equality. In the 2001 case of Dahlab v. Switzerland, the court upheld the government's right to require a teacher, who had recently converted to Islam, to remove her headscarf given that it was a "powerful external symbol" that could "influence" young children. In November and December 2008, the European Court dealt with Dogru v. France, and Kevanci v. France, both cases of 12-year-old Muslim girls expelled in 1999 from their schools for covering their head during phys-ed class. The European Court found no violation of the right to religion saying the girls had made an "ostentatious" display. In Mann Singh v. France, where a Sikh who had held driving licenses for 20 years with his picture showing him wearing a turban now had to remove his turban to continue to do so, the European Court rejected the case without a hearing.

Human Rights Watch criticized these decisions and called them "restrictions of religious freedoms for non-Christians". It contrasts these rulings with those involving the protection of the Christian religion. HRW, cites as an example the case of Otto Preminger-Institute in which the ECHR upheld the seizure by Austrian authorities of a film, as it could have upset members of the Christian faith.

Other cases


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.

See also


  1. Art. 46, European Convention of Human Rights
  2. Art. 47, European Convention of Human Rights
  3. ECHR website - Composition of the Plenary.
  4. ECHR website - Composition of the Sections.
  5. European Court on Human Rights: Imminent reforms must not obstruct individuals' redress for human rights violations by Amnesty International News Service No: 120 11 May 2004
  6. Search ECHR data base "In the case of Ireland v. the United Kingdom" (No. 5310/71)
  7. [1] Refah Partisi (The Welfare Party) and Others v Turkey
  8. Refah (The Welfare Party) and Others v. Turkey [41340/98 41342/98 41343/98 41344/98] 13th February 2003, pp. 39–49
  9. "Russia Ruled Responsible For Killings Of Four Chechens" 21 June 2007, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, June 21, 2007
  10. Russia Convicted in Chechnya Killings, IslamOnline, Jun. 22, 2007
  11. Chechnya: European Court Last Hope for Victims; France, EU, Should Use Rulings to End Abuses, Human Rights Watch, June 9, 2008
  12. Appleby v. United Kingdom (2003) ECHR 222.
  13. [2] A. and Others v. the United Kingdom
  14. Court press release of 5 April 2007, Court judgment

External links

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