Procedure before the ECtHR

The characteristics of the procedure

        A free procedure

    The applicant does not have to pay any legal fees to the ECtHR. The use of a lawyer is in principle compulsory from the moment the application is communicated to the respondent State.

        A written procedure

    The procedure is almost always entirely in writing, not for reasons of principle but for considerations of time and cost. A hearing is held in every grand chamber case, with rare exceptions, and in a very small number of chamber cases.

        A public procedure

    All documents filed with the Registry by the parties or by third parties are accessible to the public, unless the President of the ECtHR decides otherwise or they relate to the negotiations for a friendly settlement. This applies to both ongoing and completed cases. The hearings are public and posted on the ECtHR website.

        A multilingual procedure

    The applicant may draft his or her application in any of the official languages of the Contracting States. After the application has been communicated to the respondent State, it should in principle be in one of the two official languages of the ECtHR, which are English and French.

        An adversarial procedure

    The procedure is in principle adversarial. However, the application must be communicated to the respondent State. In the vast majority of cases, the ECtHR rules solely on the basis of the file submitted by the applicant, and therefore without knowing the position of the respondent State.

        A lengthy procedure

    For a long time now, the ECtHR has been confronted with an influx of applications. Most of these are either clearly inadmissible or manifestly well-founded. The length of proceedings is often considerable if the application is communicated to the respondent State and even more so if it reaches the grand chamber stage. On the other hand, the single judge usually decides within a few weeks or months.

The stages of the procedure

        Sorting of applications

    The application is received by the central office of the EtCHR and then directed either to one of the five sections of the ECtHR or to the filtering section, which is a structure of the Registry for States against which a large number of applications are lodged. It is then scrutinised by a lawyer from the the Registry. If the lawyer considers the case to be complete, he or she will designate the judicial formation to decide on the application, taking into account the ECtHR's policy on the order of cases to be dealt with.

        Examination of applications

    In single-judge cases, a lawyer from the Registry prepares a note for the non-judicial rapporteur, a highly experienced lawyer from the Registry, who ensures that the case is clearly inadmissible and forwards the note to the single judge for decision.

    In committee and chamber cases, a judge-rapporteur is appointed, who is a member of the panel called upon to rule and who is assisted by a lawyer from the Registry.

    Committee cases which are not declared inadmissible are simply brought to the attention of the respondent State, with the indication that the question raised is the subject of well-established case law. However, the State always has the possibility to contest this analysis and to submit observations.

    Chamber cases that are not declared inadmissible are communicated to the respondent State, which is invited to answer questions and to take a position on a possible friendly settlement. Once the respondent State's observations have been received, the ECtHR will bring them to the applicant's attention and allow him or her time to reply and to submit a claim for just satisfaction.

        Judgment of applications

    In cases not communicated to the respondent State, the ECtHR issues a decision of inadmissibility on the grounds that the application does not meet all the requirements of the Convention:
  • victim status;
  • imputation of a violation to a State party to the Convention;
  • exhaustion of domestic remedies;
  • compliance with the four-month time limit from the date of the last final domestic decision;
  • absence of anonymity of the applicant;
  • no previous examination by the ECtHR, except for new facts;
  • no referral to another international body of investigation or settlement, unless there are new facts;
  • no incompatibility of the application with the provisions of the Convention;
  • application not manifestly ill-founded;
  • no abuse of the right of individual application;
  • no significant disadvantage to the applicant.

    In cases communicated to the respondent State, the ECtHR almost always gives a single judgment on all the issues of admissibility and merits (whether or not there have been one or more violations of the Convention), including - where appropriate - just satisfaction (usually compensation for damage and reimbursement of costs). Once final, the judgment is transmitted to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, which supervises its execution.