How to lodge an individual complaint with the European Court for Human Rights
The admissibility of individual complaints before the European Court for Human Rights is linked to a series of criteria defined in Articles 34 and 35 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Many complaints are rejected because they are inaccurately worded or because it is not clear if they live up to the admissibility criteria.
- Temporal scope of application:
The ECHR is only binding once states have joined. This means that Switzerland cannot be held responsible for events before 28 November 1974.
- Subject for complaint:
The subject must be a legal or material act of a state that has ratified the ECHR. Acts of a neighbour or an employer are insufficient subjects for complaints, most acts of public authorities are sufficient.
- Reason for complaint:
The aforementioned legal or material act must have violated a law explicitly guaranteed by the ECHR (Articles 2-14), or Additional Protocols if they have been ratified by the state in question. The individual ECHR guarantees are broadly interpreted, so not every government act that is considered unfair fulfils the criterion. Since the 14th Additional Protocol was added, the Court may also reject a complaint if the complainant has not suffered any “substantial disadvantage.”
- Personal qualities:
Individual complaints are reserved for persons or organisations under private law whose rights have been personally and immediately violated as defined in the ECHR. It is thus impossible to lodge a complaint against a legal act without a specific case of application.
The complainant must have tried all national legal action first. In Switzerland, this is only the case after a verdict from the Federal Supreme Court.
The complaint has to be lodged within 6 months of the court of final appeal’s judgement in the respective country. Delayed complaints will be dismissed.
- Form and content of the complaint:
The complaint has to be filed in written form and not anonymously. If the complaint is faxed or emailed to the Court first, it must be confirmed through regular mail. The facts and circumstances must be presented concisely, together with an explanation of how and to what extent ECHR rights were infringed upon. The complaint can be written in any official language of the Council of Europe. At a later stage, proceedings will be held in French or English and there is an obligation to be represented in court.
- Legal consequences:
If the European Court for Human Rights finds an infringement, it accepts the complaint and leaves it to the country to rectify it (restitutio in integrum). If this is not possible, the European Court for Human Rights can also decide on pecuniary reparations, which generally fall substantially short of the plaintiff’s expectations. In Switzerland, a verdict from the Federal Supreme Court can be revised under Article 122 BGG (Federal Law on the Federal Supreme Court, in German).
Further information on lodging complaints
All documents related to a complaint are public. Decisions and judgements are published by the European Court for Human Rights. Plaintiffs may ask for their personal information to remain private. They should do so as early as possible, ideally when filing the complaint, but they can still apply for anonymity at a later stage. If the request for anonymity is accepted, the court will decide how to make the information anonymous (first letters of the name or single letters such as X, Y, Z). See “Requests for anonymity”.
In special cases, interim measures can be called for at the European Court for Human Rights (based on Rule 39 of the ECHR “Rules of Court”). Should an irreparable disadvantage exist, the European Court for Human Rights asks a member state to take or abstain from certain actions. This can be applied to pending deportations of asylum seekers, possible extradition of an offender or before a possible repatriation of a child to a parent living abroad. For more information on ECHR practice, see: Interim measures, January 2013. The request for interim measures must be shortly thereafter accompanied by a well-founded application with all necessary documents. Applicants must also prove that all domestic steps have been taken to prevent the implementation of the imminent measure. The request for interim measures is best faxed directly to the Court (+33 (0)3 88 41 39 00) in order to underline the urgency of the matter and to ensure that the request is handled immediately.
As of 1 January 2016, the rules for lodging a complaint have been slightly changed. The following links provide all the documents required to lodge a complaint with the European Court for Human Rights, including an application form, admissibility checklist, and a pamphlet about the ECHR application.
- Your ECHR application
How to apply
- Requests for anonymity
- Information for those who wish to apply to the Court
Application information in 35 languages