European Court of Human Rights

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The European Court of Human Rights (French: Cour européenne des droits de l’homme) in Strasbourg is a supra-national court, established by the European Convention on Human Rights, which provides legal recourse of last resort for individuals who feel that their human rights have been violated by a contracting party to the Convention. Application before the court can also be brought by other contracting parties.

The Convention was adopted under the auspices of the Council of Europe, all 47 of whose member states are parties to the Convention.


History and structure

The Court was instituted as a permanent entity with full-time judges on 1 November 1998, replacing the then existing enforcement mechanisms, which included the European Commission of Human Rights (created in 1954) and the European Court of Human Rights, which had been created in 1959.

The new format of the Court was the result of the ratification of Protocol 11, an amendment to the Convention that was ratified in November 1998. The new full-time judges were subsequently elected by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. The first President of the court was Luzius Wildhaber.

By the time Protocol No. 11 entered into force on 1 November 1998 establishing a full-time Court and opening up direct access for 800 million Europeans, the Court had delivered 837 judgments. By the end of 2005 it had delivered 5,968 judgments.

All member states of the Council of Europe are required to sign and ratify the Convention. The Court consists of a number of judges equal to the number of Contracting Parties, which currently stand at 47. Each judge is elected in respect of a Contracting Party by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Despite this correspondence, however, there are no nationality requirements for judges (e.g. a Swiss national may be elected in respect of Liechtenstein). Judges are assumed to be impartial arbiters, rather than representatives of any country. Judges are elected to six-year terms and may be re-elected.

The Court is divided into five "Sections", each of which consists of a geographic and gender-balanced selection of justices. The entire Court elects a President and five Section Presidents, two of whom also serve as Vice-Presidents; all terms last for three years. Each section selects a Chamber, which consists of the Section President and a rotating selection of six other justices. The Court also maintains a 17-member Grand Chamber, which consists of the President, Vice-Presidents, and Section Presidents, in addition to a rotating selection of justices from one of two balanced groups. The selection of judges alternates between the groups every nine months.

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