European Court of Human Rights

What is the European Court of Human Rights?

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) (or ECtHR) was set up after the signing of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. This convention was established in 1953 and is an international treaty aimed to protect fundamental rights and freedoms in Europe.  The Court was subsequently established and is based in Strasbourg. The current format of the Court came into force in 1998.  Individuals, parties or other states can bring about an application against any European state, all of which have signed up to the Convention, if they believe this state has committed a human rights violation.  

What powers does it have in the United Kingdom?

If an individual or party believe that their rights outlined in this convention have been violated by the UK government, then they can send an application against the state to the Court.  The UK, as every European state, is legally bound to protect all the rights stated in the convention.  If the UK fails to do so it could be held to account in front of this court and is then legally bound to implement any judgement passed.

What rights does the convention cover?

Article 1 of the Convention states that “The High Contracting Parties shall secure to everyone within their jurisdiction the rights and freedoms defined in Section I of this Convention,” binding each state to the convention.  The convention principally covers civil and political rights with very few socio-economic ones, which is something that it is often criticized for.

The principal rights and freedoms that the convention protects are set out in Articles 2-18.  These include:
  • Article 2: The Right to Life

  • Article 3: Prohibition of Torture

  • Article 4: Prohibition of Slavery

  • Article 5: Right of Liberty and Security

  • Article 6: The right to a fair trial

  • Article 7: Prohibition of retrospectivity of laws

  • Article 8: Right to a private and family life, home and correspondence

  • Article 9: Freedom of thought, conscience and religion

  • Article 10:Freedom of Expression

  • Article 11: Freedom of assembly and association

  • Article 12: Right to marry

  • Article 13: Right to an effective remedy

  • Article 14: Prohibition of discrimination

  • Article 15: Right of derogation of certain rights for states under emergencies.

  • Article 16: Restriction of political activities of Aliens.

  • Article 17: Prohibition of abuse of rights

  • Article 18: Permitted restrictions on limitations of rights

Article 15 offers states the freedom to derogate from certain rights if it is in the time of “war or other public emergency threatening the life of the nation.”  However some rights are exempt from this, such as Article 2 and Article 3.

There are four further sections, and further protocols to the Convention.

  • Procedure to bring an appeal to the ECHR
  • Bringing an appeal to the ECHR

Applications of violations against member states can be brought to the ECHR by any other state, any party or any individual.  They are sent to Strasbourg where they are deemed meritorious or unmeritorious.  If the case has not been dismissed then it will be looked at by the Chamber, while highly important cases will be examined by the Grand Chamber. 

Difficulties and controversies:

The principal difficulty the court faces is its inability to deal with most applications. 

As a highly successful institute, it lacks the resources to deal with the majority of cases and is therefore forced to dismiss them, defeating its aim of upholding European Human Rights. 

Interpretations of the convention are often not always clear so the Court is often criticized for its inability to provide a consistent understanding of each Article. This is particularly true in the often conflicting and vague interpretations of Article 8 that are prevalent in judgments.

The Court also has the power to refer a judgement back to the State which has been accused.  This is justified to preserve the pluralism of all the European states. This margin of appreciation is adopted when the Court is not willing to pass a judgement against a state which may be ignored.  This is the most significant criticism of the Court.