European Court of Human

The European Court of Human Rights, based in Strasbourg, is an international court that allows individuals to file a lawsuit, under certain preconditions. In order to do this, the person filing a claim ends up going the country against which he or she previously submitted the case at national level. It is an instrument of the Council of Europe, which is available to all persons residing in those states or who have had a problem with any of the member states.

In order to do this, it is necessary that the case in question has been brought to court in the country and that all national remedies have been exhausted (this means that there is no more available options at the judicial level), and no more than 4 months have passed since the last decision regarding the case was taken.

There is one small exception, the request for interim measures. This application has a different procedural way, in order to avoid situations which would be left with no possible reparation if they are not paralyzed, or if there is an immediate danger of irreparable damage. So, when someone asks for interim measures, the aim is to prevent the applicant from suffering violations of his/her human rights and to avoid that those which have already happened are left without redress. In the application, one must prove that there is an imminent risk of irreparable harm, which is contrary to the Convention and its Protocols. On a practical level, it has been used mostly in cases of expulsion of aliens from the country.

Again, there must not exist any mechanism within the country that can repair this situation. If it does exist but is not useful, this must be proven it in the application.

While it is not mandatory to start this process with a lawyer, it is highly recommended. Let us recall that only five percent of the submitted claims are declared admissible. This is because, for an application to be accepted, you must fulfill some very specific requirements which are established by law. If only one of them is missing, the application will not be taken into consideration and there will be no legal possibility to redress the mistake. Furthermore, the European Court of Human Rights is not a fourth instance. This means that when we submit an application, we cannot claim the same issue, or present the case from a national perspective. One has to cite which protected rights included in the Convention on Human Rights and its various protocols have been violated by the country.

These rights are:

  • The right to life.
  • The right to a fair trial.
  • The right to respect for private and family life.
  • Freedom of expression.
  • Freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
  • The right to property.

Likewise, the Convention contains a number of prohibitions:

  • Torture and inhuman or degrading treatment.
  • Slavery and forced labor.
  • The death penalty.
  • Arbitrary and unlawful detention.
  • The discrimination in the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms recognized by the Convention.

The Court’s judgments are binding for the country. The majority of the procedures are mostly written. While the lawsuit may be filed in any official language of the Member States, if admissible the subsequent pleadings will have to be written in English or French.

If the claim is declared inadmissible, that decision is final, with no possibility of discussion. However, if the process continues, there are several possible endings. The Court tries and encourages the parties to reach an amicable agreement, which would be a compensation from the state being sued to the individual applicant. If there were to be no agreement, the process would end in judgment, as long as it is not declared inadmissible throughout the entire procedure.

This decision may be appealed to a second and ultimately higher instance within the Court. But very few cases reach this court of appeals.