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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) of 1950.

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. Judgments 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 judgments 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 judgments. This mechanism ensures that a Court judgment against a member state is pursued at the political level in the Council of Europe until such time as the state declares the judgment to have been enforced. If a judgment is not enforced, the Committee of Ministers normally issues so-called interim resolutions demanding that the recalcitrant state enforce the judgment in question.

Germany has always been a staunch supporter in the Committee of Ministers of the timely enforcement of Court judgments. The obligation to enforce judgments 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 number of applications lodged with the Court has been increasing for years. At the end of 2010, some 140,000 cases were pending. This represents an increase of 17 percent compared to the previous year. 2381 of the pending cases concern Germany. A total of 36 judgments were issued in cases involving Germany in 2010. In 29 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, the so-called “Interlaken Process” was launched in 2010. This reform process is designed to continue until 2020 and to guarantee the long-term functioning of the Court.