How the Court works
Article 25 of the European Convention on Human Rights provides that: “The Court shall have a registry, the functions and organisation of which shall be laid down in the Rules of Court.”
The task of the Registry is to provide legal and administrative support to the Court in the exercise of its judicial functions. It is therefore composed of lawyers, administrative and technical staff and translators. There are currently some 640 staff members of the Registry, 270 lawyers and 370 other support staff (see the Organisation Chart below). Registry staff members are staff members of the Council of Europe, the Court’s parent organisation, and are subject to the Council of Europe’s Staff Regulations. Approximately half the Registry staff are employed on contracts of unlimited duration and may be expected to pursue a career in the Registry or in other parts of the Council of Europe. They are recruited on the basis of open competitions. All members of the Registry are required to adhere to strict conditions as to their independence and impartiality.
The head of the Registry (under the authority of the President of the Court) is the Registrar, who is elected by the Plenary Court (Article 25 (e) of the Convention). He/She is assisted by one or more Deputy Registrars, likewise elected by the Plenary Court. Each of the Court’s five judicial Sections is assisted by a Section Registrar and a Deputy Section Registrar.
The principal function of the Registry is to process and prepare for adjudication applications lodged by individuals with the Court. The Registry’s lawyers are divided into 31 case-processing divisions, each of which is assisted by an administrative team. The lawyers prepare files and analytical notes for the Judges. They also correspond with the parties on procedural matters. They do not themselves decide cases. Cases are assigned to the different divisions on the basis of knowledge of the language and legal system concerned. The documents prepared by the Registry for the Court are all drafted in one of its two official languages (English and French).
In addition to its case-processing divisions, the Registry has divisions dealing with the following sectors of activity: information technology; case-law information and publications; research and the library; just satisfaction; press and public relations; language department and internal administration. It also has a central office, which handles mail, files and archives.
According to Article 50 of the Convention, the expenditure on the Court is to be borne by the Council of Europe. Under present arrangements the Court does not have a separate budget, but its budget is part of the general budget of the Council of Europe. As such it is subject to the approval of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe in the course of their examination of the overall Council of Europe budget. The Council of Europe is financed by the contributions of the 47 member States, which are fixed according to scales taking into account population and gross national product.
The Court’s budget for 2015 amounts to 69,076,300 euros. This covers Judges’ remuneration, staff salaries and operational expenditure (information technology, official journeys, translation, interpretation, publications, representational expenditure, legal aid, fact-finding missions. etc). It does not include expenditure on the building and infrastructure (telephone, cabling etc).
The Registry has a Budget and Finance Office, which deals with the day-to day management of the Court’s budget, under the authority of the Registrar.
Life of an application
The flow chart indicates the progress of a case through the different judicial formations. In the interests of readability, it does not include certain stages in the procedure – such as communication of an application to the respondent State, consideration of a re-hearing request by the Panel of the Grand Chamber and friendly settlement negotiations.
The life of an application (simplified diagram)
Case-processing flow chart before the Court
In 2009, the Court adopted a new policy concerning the order in which it deals with cases. According to this policy, the Court takes into consideration the importance and urgency of the issues raised when deciding the order in which cases are to be dealt with. Thus, the most serious cases and cases which disclose the existence of widespread problems will be dealt with more rapidly.
In a case before the Court, where a friendly settlement procedure has been unsuccessful, the respondent Government may make a declaration acknowledging the violation of the Convention and undertaking to provide the applicant with redress.
Over the past few years the Court has developed a new procedure to cater for the massive influx of applications concerning similar issues, also known as “systemic or structural issues” – i.e. those that arise from the non-conformity of domestic law with the Convention as regards the exercise of a particular right. The Court has thus recently been implementing a procedure that consists of examining one or more applications of this kind, whilst adjourning its examination of similar cases. When it delivers its judgment in the pilot case, it calls on the Government concerned to bring the domestic legislation into line with the Convention and indicates the general measures to be taken. It will then proceed to dispose of the adjourned similar cases in the light of the terms of the pilot judgment.
Rule 61: Pilot judgment procedure (entry into force 1st April 2011)
Information visits for legal professionals and law students
- Information visits for legal professionals and law students can be organised. In general, the programme includes the screening of a documentary “The Conscience of Europe” followed by a presentation on the role and work of the Court lasting approximately one hour. The presentation may also take place after the group has attended a hearing (see calendar of scheduled hearings).
- Information visits are organised only for groups comprising 25 people minimum. The minimum age of participants is 18 years.
- There are no guided visits of the building.
- Information visits only take place on working days. The Court is shut at the weekends and on public holidays.
- As we receive a very large number of requests, we recommend that you apply two months in advance.
- To book, please complete the Electronic form
Rules of security and conduct
- Strict punctuality is requested.
- The number of participants should not exceed that stated in the list of participants, which will be required beforehand.
- Appropriate dress is required.
- For security reasons, access is only given to those parts of the building that are open to the public. Access to the cafeteria is prohibited.
- The building does not have a left-luggage office; you are therefore advised to leave luggage at the hotel or in the coach.
Please ensure that these instructions are followed.
Recruitment and traineeships
Recruitment at the Court
All vacancy notices for the different parts of the Council of Europe, including the Court’s Registry, are published on the website of the Council of Europe’s Human Resources Directorate.
Assistant lawyers’ scheme
The assistant lawyers’ scheme is open to law graduates and gives legal professionals at the start of their career who are nationals of one of the member States of the Council of Europe the opportunity to work at the Court for a fixed period, processing individual applications relating to their own country’s legal system. Posts are filled by means of competitive examinations which are advertised on the website of the Council of Europe’s Human Resources Directorate.
Traineeships at the Court
Legal professionals with a university degree in law and a sound knowledge of human rights issues, particularly in the context of the European Convention on Human Rights, may apply for a traineeship at the Court.
Court trainees work either in one of the legal divisions responsible for processing applications or in one of the following common services of the Court: the Case-law Information and Publications Division, the Just Satisfaction Division, the Research Division, the Press Unit, the Visitors' Unit or the Public Relations Unit. Reasons should be given for choosing a particular area of work within the Court. The electronic application form as well as all relevant information is available on the traineeship page of the Council of Europe.
Establishment of the Court 1959 (in French only)
First election of judges 1959 (in French only)
Opening of the judicial year 1960 (in French only)
First case referred to the Court 1960 (in French only)
Access to case files
- documents deposited with the Registry in connection with friendly-settlement negotiations are not accessible to the public (Rule 33 § 1);
- in cases referred to the Court under Article 5 §§ 2 to 5 of Protocol No. 11, documents composing the case file of the former Commission, including all pleadings, remain confidential unless the President of the Chamber decides otherwise (Rule 106 § 4 of the Rules of Court).
Requests for permission to consult files should be made using the online form.
You must give the exact references of each case you wish to consult (application number, date, etc.). To avoid unnecessary travel and expense, it should be noted that the internal documents of the Court are not accessible. The parties are reminded that “documents deposited with the Registrar” by the Government are forwarded for information or comments to the applicant and vice versa.
If the request is accepted the documents may be consulted at the European Court of Human Rights by appointment only, made at least 15 working days in advance.