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European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR)

last updated Jan 19, 2009

The European Court of Human Rights was established by the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) in 1950. However, it was only instituted as a permanent court with full-time judges after the ratification of Protocol 11 in 1998 when it replaced the European Commission of Human Rights (EComHR). All member states of the Council of Europe, currently numbering 47, have to sign and ratify the Convention and, in so doing, accept the jurisdiction of the Court to deliver binding judgements.

The Court’s task is to ensure that States respect the rights and guarantees set out in the Convention. It does this by examining complaints (known as ‘applications’) lodged by individuals or, sometimes, by States. For the application to be admissible, the complainant must directly and personally have been a victim of the violation, and have exhausted domestic remedies. In addition, the infringement of Convention rights must be attributable to a public authority in the State concerned. If, after examination of the facts, the case is declared admissible, the State involved will be notified and the Court will encourage both parties (the applicant and the State) to reach a friendly settlement. If this is not possible, a decision on the merits of the case will be taken.

Where the Court finds that the respondent State has violated one or more Convention rights, it delivers a judgment and under article 41 may award ‘just satisfaction’ to the complainant. As the judgements of the ECtHR have binding effect, the State concerned is under the obligation to take the necessary domestic measures to comply with the Court's decision. The execution of the judgment, including the payment of compensation, is supervised by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe.