The number of judges is equal to the number of parties to the Convention. Judges are elected by the parliamentary assembly from a list of three nominees from the State. They are required to be of high moral character and must possess qualifications required for appointment to high judicial office or be jurists of recognised competence.
The parliamentary assembly appoints delegates to interview the candidates, examine their backgrounds and report to the assembly. Judges are usually but not necessarily nationals of the contracting party for whom they are elected. They are elected for a non-renewable term of nine years.
The court may sit as a single judge, committee of three, seven or a Grand Chamber of seventeen. Single judges deal only with applications for admissibility and may strike out cases. Three judge committees examine the admissibility and merits of repetitive cases.
The court is divided into five sections. The composition of each section seeks to achieve a gender and geographic balance. Seven judge Chambers examine the admissibility and merits of individuals’ applications which are not prima facie inadmissible. They also examine State cases.
Where a pending case raises a serious issue affecting the interpretation of the Convention and it appears that the Chamber may reach a decision inconsistent with earlier case law, the Chamber will pass jurisdiction to the Grand Chamber unless a party objects within a set period. The objection must be based on valid criteria. The requirement for consent no longer applies since Protocol 15 took effect in August 2018.
A party may request that his case be sent to the Grand Chamber after the Chamber after judgement has been given. This must be done within three months and a panel of five judges of the Grand Chamber decides if it should be allowed.
The panel shall accept a request if the case raises a serious question affecting the interpretation or application of the Convention or its Protocols or a serious issues of general importance.
Registry & Applications
The registry lawyers correspond with the applicant and may seek further information and documents and national judgements. They send application forms which are to be completed with set details.
The form sets out the particulars of the parties, the nature of the claim and, so far as possible, the provisions of the Convention alleged to be violated, a statement of facts and the arguments on which the applicant relies. The application may be rejected if there is a failure to complete the application after a time limit of eight weeks has been given.
Where the materials submitted is such that the case appears to be inadmissible or should be struck out, a single judge may examine the file and decide whether it is declared inadmissible. Where it is not patently inadmissible, a judge rapporteur may conduct an initial examination and direct the procedure.
The hearing is in private. A judge in respect of the respondent state fits as a member of the Chamber or Grand Chamber.
Proceedings of the court are generally in public and in open court. Documents are open to the public. Deliberations and details of the deliberations are confidential.
The court maintains a registry consisting comprising lawyers, translators and employees. The registry has an important function in case management. It conducts correspondence with parties and the state concerned, prepares cases, advises the courts on questions of national law and the Convention and assists in the drafting of judgements.
An application may be assigned to a lawyer who acts as rapporteur. He prepares the case for the judge who chose him as rapporteur and attends sessions in Chamber when the case is being dealt with. A non-judicial rapporteur assists the judge in single-judge formations.
The court’s procedure is predominately written. It seeks to facilitate applicants in so far as possible. Applicants may correspond in any language, although the official languages are French and English.
There is provision for priority for urgent cases, which are given the highest priority. There were no court charges as such.
The costs are met by the Council of Europe. The court may grant free legal aid at any stage after the respondent has made observations on admissibility or the time limit for so doing has expired. Applicants must furnish particulars of their means and show that they have insufficient means to meet the cost of the case. The applicant state may comment.
There is no provision for interim or interlocutory measures to preserve the position pending a final decision. However, where there is an imminent risk of irreparable damage, the court may, at the request of a party, or another person concerned or of its own motion, indicate the interim measures that should be adopted in the interests of the parties for the proper conduct of the proceeding. This may arise, for example, in a deportation case or cases where there is questions of ill health or risk to life. The applicant is free to correspond with the Court.
The interim measure is binding on the State. Any violation may violate the Convention in the absence of there being an objectively reasonable impediment which prevents compliance.
The vast majority of applications are held inadmissible and struck out. The three-judge committees must act unanimously.
Applications heard other than by a single judge, or a committee are considered by the Chamber. This is based on a report by the judge rapporteur.
The Chamber may declare the case inadmissible. There is no appeal against a finding of inadmissibility by a single judge committee or a Chamber. The decision on admissibility and merits are usually heard jointly.
Examination of Case
If the court declares the applications admissible, it shall pursue the examination of the case together with the representatives of the party. If it need be, it may undertake an investigation for the effective conduct of which the states concerned will furnish all necessary facilities. In many cases, the facts may have been found by the domestic court so that the Court examines them to ascertain their compliance with the Convention.
A contracting party (state) that is not a party to the case may intervene where an applicant is its national. It must be informed of such an application at the same time as communication to a respondent state with the leave of the president of the Chamber. The third party may submit written comments or in some cases (less commonly) intervene in the hearing. Non-governmental organisations may make third-party comments of relevance in their field.
The Chamber may, at the request of a third-party or of its own motion, obtain evidence that it considers of assistance in clarifying the facts of the case. It may request documentary evidence. It may hear witnesses and experts whose evidence is likely to be of assistance.
A court if necessary, may appoint a delegation of judges to undertake an enquiry or carry out an investigation. The state must facilitate all necessary, furnish all necessary facilities to allow for this purpose.