European Court of Human Rights

The European Court of Human Rights, based in Strasbourg, deals with complaints relating to breaches of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR).

The ECHR is an international agreement under which the member states of the Council of Europe have undertaken to guarantee their citizens basic civil and political rights. All member states of the Council of Europe are obliged to ratify the Convention. 

The Court deals with complaints from individual applicants (against a Contracting Party of the Convention) and with complaints from Contracting Parties against each other.

The admissibility of an application depends on whether all domestic remedies have been exhausted. A prerequisite in Germany is that the plaintiff must have appealed unsuccessfully to the Federal Constitutional Court against an infringement of his or her rights. Hearings of the Court are public. Judgements are issued in the official languages of the Council of Europe (English and French).

If the Court finds there has been a violation of the ECHR, it can, according to Article 41 thereof, afford just satisfaction to the injured party. The parties to a dispute are legally bound to accept the Court’s judgements and must take the necessary measures to implement them.

The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe monitors the enforcement of the Court’s judgements. This mechanism ensures that a Court judgement against a member state is pursued at the political level in the Council of Europe until such time as the state declares the judgement to have been enforced. If a judgement is not enforced, the Committee of Ministers normally issues so‑called interim resolutions demanding that the recalcitrant state enforce the judgement in question.

Germany has always been a staunch supporter in the Committee of Ministers of the timely enforcement of Court judgements. The obligation to enforce judgements handed down by the Court naturally also applies to Germany. Professor Angelika Nußberger has served as the German judge at the Court since January 2011.

The Court has received a huge number of applications each year for several years. Some 96,050 cases were pending as of April 2014. A total of six judgements were issued in cases involving Germany in 2013. In three of these, the Court held that the ECHR had in fact been violated. 

To deal with the flood of applications received by the Court, and the potential difficulty in keeping up with the workload, vital reforms were launched in 2010. Important parts of these have already been implemented. As a result, the number of cases pending fell by around 22 percent from 2012 to 2013.

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