About the European Court

Key facts 

  • The European Court of Human Rights is an international human rights court, established in 1959 within the framework of the Council of Europe (not to be confused with the European Union).
  • The Court hears complaints from individuals, and occasionally states, on alleged breaches of rights and freedoms guaranteed in the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
  • The European Convention on Human Rights, as it is commonly known, has been ratified by 47 states.

Which rights are protected by the Convention?

States that ratify the Convention undertake to secure to everyone within their jurisdiction, not only their nationals, the rights and freedoms defined in the Convention. These include the right to life, the right to a fair hearing, the right to respect for private and family life, freedom of expression, and freedom of thought, conscience and religion. The Convention also includes prohibitions, such as against torture, slavery and forced labour.

Who can bring a case to the Court – and who are cases brought against?

There are two types of application. Individual applications may be lodged by any person, group of individuals, company or NGO. Inter-state applications may be brought by states against each other. Cases can only be brought against one or more states that have ratified the Convention, and not against individuals or organisations.

What are the conditions of admissibility?

Applications must meet certain requirements if they are to be declared admissible by the Court. For example, individuals complaining of violations of their rights must first have taken their case through the courts of the state concerned, up to the highest possible level. Once domestic remedies have been exhausted, applicants have six months to lodge their application with the Court. The applicant must be, personally and directly, a victim of a violation of the Convention. This includes, for example, relatives of people who have been killed or who have disappeared.

How long do proceedings before the Court last?

The Court receives around 60-70,000 applications each year. The length of proceedings before the Court varies greatly. Some cases can take several years. In other cases, such as where a person faces an imminent threat of irreparable harm, the application may be classified as urgent. For example, the Court may request a state not to expel or extradite someone to a country where it is alleged that they would face death or torture.

Are states bound by judgments against them?

Yes. Judgments finding violations are binding on the states concerned and they are obliged to execute them. The Court may award an applicant compensation for any damage sustained. States may also have to take other individual measures to remedy the applicant’s specific situation. In some cases, states may additionally have to take general measures, such as changes to legislation, to ensure that the violation is not repeated. The Committee of Ministers, the inter-governmental arm of the Council of Europe, monitors the execution of judgments.

Find out more about the Court in 50 questions.

Read more about our cases at the European Court and our work towards the implementation of judgments.