The European Human Rights Framework
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 monitors compliance with the European Social Charter under two separate procedures:
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 (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:
Case-law Information Note - summaries of cases considered to be of particular interest and also provides news about the Court and Court publications.
Overview of the Court’s case-law - judgments and decisions which either raise new issues or important matters of general interest.
COURTalks-disCOURs - videos providing an overview of the Court’s jurisprudence
Case-law guides - arranged by theme
Case-law research reports - these reports concern themes in the case-law, particular Convention provisions and the use of other international instruments in the Court’s case-law.
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.
International Law Reports on JUSTIS.
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.
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:
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)
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)
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