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Human Rights Law

The European Human Rights Framework

The European system of human rights was created under the auspices of the Council of Europe, an intergovernmental organisation with 47 Member States  

The principal regional European human rights instruments are:

The principal European bodies responsible for defining and overseeing States’ compliance with their regional human rights obligations are the European Committee of Social Rights (the Committee), which monitors compliance with obligations under the Charter, and the European Court of Human Rights (the Court), which monitors compliance with the ECHR. Under the European system, as with the other main regional systems, only States may be held accountable for human rights violations. 

The Human Rights Building in Strasbourg, which houses the European Court of Human Rights. Image source: Wikipedia Commons

The European Committee of Social Rights

The European Committee of Social Rights monitors compliance with the European Social Charter under two separate procedures: 

  • the Reporting System State Parties regularly submit a report on the implementation of the Charter in domestic law and in practice. These reports are examined by the Committee, which decides whether the national situations they describe comply with the Charter. These decisions are called conclusions, and are published annually. These conclusions are declaratory - they set out the law, and national authorities must take measures to give them effect under domestic law. Domestic courts can declare invalid or set aside domestic legislation if the Committee has ruled that it is not in compliance with the Charter. More on the Reporting System.
  • the Collective Complaints Procedure - the Committee may decide complaints against those 15 States that have accepted the collective complaints proceduresThe Collective Complaints procedure is a parallel protection system which complements the judicial protection provided under the ECHR. However, unlike the situation with applications lodged before the Court, individuals are not entitled to lodge complaints with the Committee. Complaints may only be submitted by European 'social partners' (trade union and employers' groups), employers’ organisations and trade unions in the country concerned, and international non-governmental organisations holding participatory status with the Council of EuropeComplaints may only raise questions concerning non-compliance of a State’s law or practice with one of the provisions of the Charter. Complaints may be lodged without domestic remedies having been exhausted and without the claimant organisation being a victim of the alleged violation If a complaint is considered admissible by the Committee, it adopts a decision on the merit of complaint. These decisions are not enforceable in the domestic legal systems of the State Parties. More on the Collective Complaints Procedure.

The Decisions and Conclusions of the Committee are available on the HUDOC-ESC database, and include decisions adopted by the Committee in the framework of the Collective Complaints procedure and follow-up of the decisions by the Committee of Ministers, and Conclusions adopted by the Committee in the framework of the Reporting System and follow-up of the Conclusions by the Committee of Ministers.

RSS feed of latest decisions of the Committee (use Firefox, IE or Safari to view feeds - they do not work using Chrome).

The European Court of Human Rights

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) is based in Strasbourg, France and began operating in 1959. The Court has jurisdiction to decide complaints ('applications') against all 47 Council of Europe Member States concerning alleged violations of the European Convention on Human Rights. Individuals, groups of individuals, non-governmental organisations and States may submit applications directly to the Court. The person, group or NGO does not have to be a citizen of a State Party, but the application must concern violations of the Convention allegedly committed by a State Party that directly and significantly affected the applicant. Individuals alleging human rights violations must generally have first tried to resolve the problem using appropriate remedies available at the national level. States will only be considered internationally responsible for human rights violations that the government failed to remedy when it had the opportunity to do so. The Court may also issue emergency protective orders ('interim measures') in exceptional cases when the applicant faces a real risk of irreparable harm. More information on the Court from the International Justice Resource Centre.

Decisions & Judgments

Admissible applications are decided on the merits. The HUDOC-ECHR Case Law database contains all decisions and judgments on admissibility and merits from the first case in 1960 to current. It can be searched or browsed by eg: State Party, organisation, national legislation, keywords, date etc. Using HUDOC is the best way to find the most recent cases.

The Court's Case-law analysis website contains very useful information, including:

Finding a reported version of an European Court of Human Rights decision or judgment

The judgments on the HUDOC database are unreported. Not all judgments and decisions are subsequently reported - usually only those deemed significant. If you need to find a reported version, check:

Reports of Judgments and Decisions (cited in the case-law as ECHR and available in HUDOC under the importance level ‘Case Reports’) is the official online collection of the Court's leading judgments, decisions and advisory opinions since 1998, and is the preferred report series to cite. Publication is about three years behind. To see if recent cases have been selected for inclusion in the reports, check the annual lists under the Reports Case Selection heading. See also Case-law references of judgments, advisory opinions and published decisions - a master list of all judgments, advisory opinions and decisions that have been published or selected for publication in the Court’s official series. 

European Human Rights Reports ('EHRR') on Westlaw UK. This report series contains cases from the ECtHR and European Commission on Human Rights only. Cite this series if the decision is not reported in the official Reports of Judgments and Decisions.

Butterworths Human Rights Cases ('BHRC') on LexisNexis Academic. This report series contains cases from the ECtHR and also significant cases from domestic courts in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the UK, Ireland and South Africa.

Oxford Reports on International Law (ORIL).

  • To browse judgments, from the home page, click on the blue Jurisdictions button on the top menu bar, and select European Organizations/Institutions from the dropdown menu. Then, using the left hand menu under the Jurisdictions heading, use the + signs to open Organizations/Institutions>European Organizations/Institutions>Council of Europe>European Court of Human Rights [ECtHR] and click on the ECtHR link to see all reported ECtHR judgments, or narrow further to Grand Chamber decisions.
  • To search judgments, use the Advanced search page and add eg: party, State Party, subject, and then under Content Type>Case Reports, checl the International Court Decisions box. You can then narrow to the ECtHR from the left hand menu (as described above) from the results page. 

International Law Reports on JUSTIS.

  • From the JUSTIS home page, click Index and Contents.
  • From the next screen, click the + sign beside Cases, then the + sign beside All Cases, then the + sign beside the International Law Reports. Cases are listed by year. Click ticks into the year/s you want to search, scroll to the top of the screen and click Show Results.

Citing ECtHR cases

  • Mode of citation - an explanation of how to refer to the judgments and decisions of the Court - from the Court website.
  • AGLC - 13.2.2 (pages 192 - 194 in AGLC3)

Case notes / summaries / commentary on ECtHR decisions

  • Use the Human Rights Case Digest on HEIN Online. This very useful digest was published between 1990-2008.  
  • Use the journal article databases referred to in the box to the left, and put the case name in the article  Title field


The Council of Europe & the EU

The only relationship between the Council of Europe and the European Union is that the  28 Member States of the European Union, and any candidates for EU membership, must ratify the European Convention on Human Rights. The European Union itself is not a party to the Convention, so its acts cannot be the subject of applications to the European Court of Human Rights. However, issues relating to EU law have been raised regularly with the Court. 

More on the relationship between the Council of Europe and the EU.

The European Commissioner for Human Rights

The Council of Europe Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights is an independent body which monitors human rights compliance with regional obligations, identifies gaps in protection and issues of concern in the region, facilitates activities of National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) and civil society, and provides advice, recommendations and information on human rights protection to the Member States of the Council of Europe.

The Commissioner carries out country visits to monitor human rights situations, prepares thematic reports and provides advice in Issues Papers.

More on the role of the Commissioner from the International Justice Resource Centre.

European Commission on Human Rights

The European Commission on Human rights was a special tribunal that operated between 1953 and 1998. 

From 1954 to the entry into force of Protocol 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights, individuals did not have direct access to the European Court of Human Rights; they had to first apply to the Commission. If the Commission found the case to be well-founded, it would launch a case in the Court on the individual's behalf. Protocol 11 came into force in 1998 and abolished the Commission, enlarged the Court, and allowed individuals to take cases directly to the Court.

More information on the Commission on RefWorld.

Commission decisions are in the HUDOC-ECHR Case Law database. See the box to the right for information on using HUDOC. To see all Commission decisions, select the Commission box only.

Note that although HUDOC contains most Commission decisions, not all are in the database. 

Selected Commission decisions are reported in:

  • Collection of decisions of the European Commission of Human Rights 1960-1974 - 46 volumes 
    • available in print only 
    • This is not held by the University of Melbourne Libraries.


Yearbook of the European Convention on Human Rights

  • Vol 1(1955-57) ​to current held in print in the Law Library at KC 200 YEAR

Finding Journal Articles on European Human Rights Law

To find academic / scholarly journal articles on European human rights law, irrespective of the journal in which they are published, we recommend using:

Westlaw UK (UK and European articles)

  • Legal Journals Index (LJI) 
  • Full Text Articles

The following databases will also include articles on the European human rights system:

In addition to the above, for case notes / summaries / commentary on individual ECtHR decisions, use the Human Rights Case Digest on HEIN Online. This very useful digest was published between 1990-2008. 

European Human Rights Journals

Recent full text open access articles on the European Human Rights System - on SSRN

Olsen, Henrik Palmer and Magnus Esmark, 'Needles in a Haystack: Using Network Analysis to Identify Cases That Are Cited for General Principles of Law by the European Court of Human Rights' in Ryan Whalen (ed), Computational Legal Studies: The Promise and Challenge of Data-Driven Research, Edward Elgar Publishing (2019, Forthcoming) 

Sólyom, Péter, 'Judicial Activism – The Last Refuge? How the European Court of Human Rights Have Addressed Challenges of Democracy and the Lack of the Separation of Powers' (2019) 

Oliver, Peter J and Philippa Watson, 'Is the Court of Justice of the European Union Finding its Religion?' (2019) 42(3) Fordham International Law Journal 

Berkes, Antal, 'Concurrent Applications Before the European Court of Human Rights: Coordinated Settlement of Massive Litigation From Separatist Areas' (2019) 34(1) American University International Law Review

Ó Fathaigh, Ronan and Dirk Voorhoof, 'Article 10 ECHR and Expressive Conduct' (2019) 24(2) Communications Law 62-73 

European Convention on Human Rights Blog

ECHR Blog from the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. 

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European Courts Blog

European Courts Case law from the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) and the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU)

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Other Research Guides

The European Human Rights System by Grigory Dikov (2018) - on NYU Law's Globalex

'Europe' in International Human Rights Research Guide by James Hart (2017) - on NYU Law's Globalex