An application to the ECHR can be lodged with the European Court of Human Right by those who consider they have suffered a human rights violation.
The list of human rights is set out in the European Convention on Human Rights (articles 2 – 19) and in its additional Protocols. Therefore, it is not possible to bring a case before the ECHR if the right or freedom is not expressly provided for in the Convention or in the Protocol.
On the surface, lodging an application with the ECHR seems very easy. However, this is not the case.
These are the 2 most frequent mistakes made at the start of the procedure:
- Making an application independently and without a lawyer. This is indeed possible, but only at the stage of sending the application. At the stage when the documents will be transmitted to the State, the ECHR will mandate you to appoint a lawyer to submit observations
- Expect to save money by drafting the application on your own and only seek a lawyer when it becomes mandatory to have one. Lawyer’s fees for the next stage will be the same because they will have to review the case. On the contrary, lawyer’s fees could be 30% higher due to the urgency of handling the case. In fact, the ECHR sets a time-limit for the submission of observations which is shorter than the 4-month time-limit for lodging the initial application. You might as well get legal assistance from the beginning and not risk having your application rejected immediately at the stage of the first administrative filter
On this page you will find out how to lodge an application with the European Court of Human Rights.
I will also tell you about the 7 most common mistakes made during the proceedings before the Strasbourg Court (and these mistakes are made even by lawyers not specialized in the field of ECHR).
Each year, approximately 60,000 applications are lodged with the ECHR, or 165 applications per day. However, 98% of these do not get past the admissibility “filter”. This means that out of 165 applications received by the Registry of the Strasbourg Court, only 3 will be examined and the remaining 162 will not be dealt with.
I am a Italian lawyer, my name is Gianluca Piemonte, and I am an expert in applications before the ECHR against Italy and other European States. Italy is one of the States with the greatest number of applications to the European Court. For this reason, Italian lawyers are the most specialized in representation before the ECHR.
On this page I will tell you how to lodge an application before the ECHR and bring your case before the Strasbourg Court to protect your rights.
Before going into detail, however, it is worth mentioning some information very useful for a better understanding of the matter.
1 – The European Court of Human Rights: what is it?
The ECHR is an international court which has jurisdiction to apply the European Convention on Human Rights and its additional Protocols.
It is based in Strasbourg, France.
Contrary to popular belief, it is not a judicial body of the European Union.
The European Court of Human Rights has jurisdiction over a population of approximately 660 million people. Italians are among the nationals that lodge the greatest number of applications and are ranked 2nd in terms of number of judgments delivered, after Turkey and before Russia.
If we consider that Turkey and Russia are states notoriously lacking in respect for human rights, we can understand the magnitude of Italian applications to the European Court of Human Rights.
The Court is not a 4th instance court because it does not review national court decisions. Also, the Court do not act as a court of appeal because it cannot quash or vary national judgments.
Currently, there are 46 States signatories to the ECHR (in 2022 Russia left the Council of Europe).
2 – Who can lodge the application?
The application can be lodged by a physical person (a private citizen), a legal entity (e.g., a company) or an organization (e.g., an NGO) that has been a party to a:
- civil trial
- administrative trial
- taxation trial
- criminal trial
- procedure of arbitration
In order to lodge the application, it is not required to be a national of a State that is a signatory to the Convention. However, it is necessary that the State against which the application is lodged has instead signed the Convention (e.g., Belarus has not signed the Convention, but a Belarusian citizen can lodge an application against Italy).
3 – The different types of application
Applications to the ECHR can be of 2 types:
- inter-State applications if they are lodged by one State against another
- individual applications if they are lodged by a private person (physical person) or an Entity against a State.
On this page, we will focus exclusively on individual applications by private persons.
Applications can be lodged exclusively against acts of national public authorities:
- Justice (i.e., judgments)
- Parliament (i.e., laws)
Therefore, it is not possible to lodge applications with the Strasbourg Court against an act of the European Union (e.g., a directive).
4 – When is it possible to apply to the ECHR?
An application can be lodged in the following cases:
- infringement of one or more of the human rights guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights and/or by one of its Protocols
- complaint directed against a State which has ratified the Convention
- matter which involves the responsibility of a public authority (legislator, administrative body, judicial body etc.); it is therefore not possible to lodge an application against a private individual or a private organization
- acts and events on which the application is based must have occurred after the date of ratification of the Convention by the respondent State
- “victim status” of the applicant for being personally and directly affected by the breach of a fundamental right (although it is allowed that parents exercising parental authority over a minor child act on behalf of the child)
- exhaustion of domestic remedies by raising the same complaints in national courts (generally, but not always, an action before a civil, criminal or administrative court, followed by an appeal to the Court of appeal and, finally, to the Court of Cassation or to the Council of State)
- complaints examined by the Court or another international body for the first time
- significant disadvantage
5 – Time-limit for lodging an application with the ECHR: 6 months or 4 months?
The time-limit for lodging an application with the ECHR is 4 months from the final domestic decision.
The time-limit runs from the day after the date on which such decision was delivered at the hearing, or from the date on which the applicant or the applicant’s lawyer became aware of the judgement or of its operative part.
On the internet, some websites still continue to erroneously report the 6-month time-limit. But the 6-month deadline is no longer valid after the ratification of Protocol No. 15.
The time-limit for applying to the ECHR is only interrupted when a complete application is lodged.
The four-month period ends on the last day of the four months even if it is a Saturday or Sunday. Therefore, the general criterion set out in the Convention applies, not the domestic law criterion, which may provide for postponement to the next working day.
PLEASE NOTE: The 4-month period is peremptory, so the expiry of this period means the loss of the possibility to lodge an application.
You are advised to lodge your application as soon as possible, because there could be no time to supplement an incomplete application form. In fact, the 4-month time-limit is only adhered if the application dispatched to Strasbourg is absolutely complete in all its parts.
6 – Contents of an application to the ECHR
An application to the ECHR must include:
- the personal data of the applicant
- a clear, concise and legible statement of the facts complained of
- evidence that the facts whose violation is complained of have caused a damage
- the presence of a significant disadvantage
- grievances on human rights issues that deserve to be examined at an international level and that have not already been examined by a national judicial body
- the signature of the applicant or of the applicant’s representative
7 – What’s not allowed?
Lodging an application before the Strasbourg Court leaves an international lawyer a particular freedom in respect to formalities, compared to some domestic applications. However, the Court does not allow:
- an application lodged to complain about a judgment deemed unfair or wrong, because the ECHR is not a fourth instance court after the Court of Cassation.
- a handwritten application
- anonymity, unless the reasons are specified, and the Court expressly grants an exemption
- sending an application which has not been drafted on the latest official application form
- faxing or emailing of the application and subsequent correspondence
- referencing the contents of the attachments for the Court to peruse, rather than setting out the information in the application
8 – What documents should be attached to the application?
The application form shall be completed in all its parts. However, an additional document of up to 20 pages may be attached to the application form to set forth the facts, grievances and claims in greater detail.
Basically, the following copies must be attached to the application to the ECHR:
- judgments or judicial remedies (e.g., orders, decrees, etc.) concerning the violation
- documents showing the exhaustion of domestic remedies
- other judgments used as the basis of the complaint
- documents showing that the individual who lodged the application has the authority to represent the applicant (e.g., the representative of a company or the parent of a minor child).
- as appropriate, medical reports, proofs of service, witness statements, and, more generally, any document supporting your grievance
Documents attached shall be listed in chronological order with respect to the narrative in the application and numbered consecutively.
The applicant must attach copies of all documents, never the original documents.
9 – Language of the application to the ECHR
The ECHR has two official languages:
However, the application can be completed in any official language of one of the 46 States signatories to the Convention.
During the initial stage of the proceedings, the applicant may also receive correspondence and replies from the Court in the language used to fill in the form (English, Spanish, Turkish, French, Polish, Romanian, etc.).
At a later stage of the proceedings, if the application is admissible because it got past the “filter” and the Court invites the government of the respondent State to submit written observations, the only languages allowed are French and English. Therefore, the Registry of the Court will communicate with the applicant only in these languages. At the same time, the applicant’s lawyer will also be required to use French or English.
However, the Court may authorize the use of the national language of the applicant’s lawyer. This is usually the case for the most common languages in Europe.
10 – ECHR application form and fac-simile
Preferably, always download the latest version of the application form (with Adobe‘s editable pdf) and print it in high quality on A4 sheets.
Be careful, never use ECHR application forms that you find on websites other than the one of the ECHR.
11 – How to send the application by post
It is sufficient to send one copy of the application, together with copies of the attachments.
In addition, it is important to follow these rules when sending the application:
- do note staple, bind or tape the documents. In fact, the Registry of the Court automatically scans the documents for submission to the jurists. Joining documents would slow down their work
- state whether the applicant has already lodged other applications with the Court
- number the attachments continuing the numerical sequence of the form
12 – ECHR application mailing address
The envelope containing the application and attachments should be sent by international registered mail with return receipt to the following address of the ECHR:
European Court of Human Rights
Council of Europe
67075 Strasbourg cedex
13 – ECHR Court fees
There are no fees for proceedings before the ECHR, other than the mailing of the envelope (between 15 and 30 euros).
The applicant will only have to bear the fees of the international lawyer appointed for the representation. Indeed, it is true that the application may be drafted and submitted by the party personally. However, if the application gets past the admissibility filter for decision, a lawyer must be appointed. That is why it is highly recommended to hire a lawyer early on to draft the application.
Hiring an international lawyer only in the next stage will not allow the applicant to save money, because the same fees will be charged for the representation in the next stage. In fact, the lawyer will have to review all the documentation and draft “written observations” (in the contentious phase) that the lawyer could have written in the application.
14 – Procedure before the European Court of Human Rights
The processing of an application to the European Court of Human Rights follows a procedure which can be summarized as follows.
15 – Preliminary phase on admissibility – Non-contentious phase
- The application is received by the Registry of the Strasbourg Court
- An administrative review of the completeness of the application is performed
- The application is rejected, or a file is opened
The applicant will receive a reply both if the application has been rejected (usually within 30 days, to allow for a timely resubmission of the application), and if a file has been opened. This is therefore an administrative procedure carried out by the Strasbourg jurists.
If the application submitted is complete and admissible, a file is then opened and assigned a case number, which is communicated to the applicant.
Repetitive cases are allocated to a Committee of 3 judges, while cases raising new issues are allocated to a Chamber of 7 judges.
Notice of application is given to the Government of the respondent State, which is invited to submit written observations on the admissibility and merits.
During this phase, the parties may reach a friendly settlement.
16 – The contentious phase
If no settlement is reached, the proceedings enter a contentious phase.
From this moment, the applicant is required to be represented by a lawyer, if not previously appointed. Please remember that it is always advisable to hire a lawyer from the beginning, considering that the applicant will then be obliged to do so afterwards.
The parties (the applicant’s lawyer and the government) exchange their written observations on the admissibility and merits.
In this phase, Rule 60 of the Rules of the Court applies, because the applicant must make a specific claim to obtain an award of just satisfaction under Article 41 of the Convention. Specifically, the applicant must submit the claims within the time-limit fixed for the submission of the applicant’s observations. Such claims must be:
- accompanied by any relevant supporting documents
The applicant’s claims are transmitted to the respondent Italian government for possible observations.
Finally, the Court may declare the inadmissibility of the application or deliver a judgment on the merits (rejection or acceptance).
17 – How to find out the state of proceedings
When the application is declared admissible, a number is assigned (e.g., 53857/22).
By entering on the State of Proceedings page the case number communicated by the Registry, it is possible to monitor the proceedings.
On smartphones, it is also possible to download the APP of the ECHR.
18 – An international lawyer to apply to the ECHR
As previously indicated, sending the application does not interrupt the 4-month time-limit because the application is only validly submitted when it is complete.
An applicant could lodge the application even without the assistance of a lawyer but as mentioned, if the application gets past the initial filter, representation by a lawyer is required. Therefore, it is advisable to appoint an international lawyer from the beginning, to draft the application to the European Court of Human Rights.
The applicant’s lawyer will be able to:
- check if the admissibility criteria for lodging an application with the ECHR are met
- compare the case with others already decided by the Court
- evaluate a claim for just satisfaction to obtain a sum of money by way of compensation for the violation suffered
- specify and provide a monetary quantification of the damage incurred
- identify supporting documents to show the exhaustion of domestic remedies, the violation and the damage
The application should be sent as soon as possible. For this reason, it is necessary to contact a lawyer immediately after becoming aware of the judgment or final decision that can no longer be appealed in Italy.
The applicant’s lawyer will have more time to carefully draft the application.
19 – Do you need a lawyer based in your city or country?
Many people wonder if they need a lawyer based in their city or country to lodge an application before the ECHR, to ensure effective communication.
Actually, you don’t need a lawyer based in your city because:
- the proceedings before the ECHR are based on documents, so the international lawyer only needs the scanned files of the documents which can be received by e-mail or by post
- any hearings will take place in Strasbourg and not in Italy
The idea of hiring a lawyer based in one’s city is outdated and obsolete. This is especially true for proceedings before the European Court of Human Rights, which, moreover, take place in France..
Moreover, Italian lawyers specialized in the field of ECHR are those who submit a higher number of applications.
Suffice it to say that out of 100 applications sent to Strasbourg, about 70 come from Italy.
20 – 7 most common mistakes
Generally, there are 7 mistakes made by those who have no experience in these applications:
The first mistake is the following (and it is also made by non-specialized lawyers):
- In the application to the HRCH it is claimed compensation for pecuniary and/or non-pecuniary damages (for example, 20,000 euros or 7 million euros). This happens because the application to the ECHR is drafted under the misconception that it should reflect the applications submitted to Italian domestic courts, where claims for compensation or reimbursement are to be made right away
- in contrast, in the procedure before the European Court, the Court set a time-limit for submitting written observations and making a claim for just satisfaction (which is a claim for pecuniary and/or non-pecuniary damages). This phase is set out in Rule 60 of the Rules of the Court
- And it is at this stage that the applicant (or the applicant’s lawyer) makes a very serious mistake. In the observations, the applicant just replies to the Italian government’s defense, but nothing is specified regarding the claim for just satisfaction. Or, reference is made to the claim already made in the application, as is generally done in Italian domestic trials. But this is not enough for the Strasbourg Court…
As a result of this mistake, the Court will not examine the claim for compensation. The consequence is very serious: the Court could even deliver a judgment condemning the State for a violation of an article of the ECHR, but it will not order it to pay compensation. As strange as it may seem even to a non-specialist lawyer, it is even possible not to claim compensation in the application to the ECHR, because it is sufficient to claim it later when sending observations.
To avoid this mistake, the written observations to be sent by post to the Court should contain what follows:
- Written observations in reply to the government’s observations (generally on the admissibility and notably on the merits)
- a specific claim for compensation for pecuniary or non-pecuniary damages and reimbursement of expenses and fees for the defense at the domestic level and before the ECHR
- a quantification of the compensation and reimbursement claimed (in euros)/
- particulars of claims itemized
- supporting documents for reimbursements or compensation requested (PLEASE NOTE: the Court will not consider generic requests that are not supported by documents that actually prove the expenses incurred, such as invoices, etc.).
This is just 1 of the 7 most common mistakes.
Of course, I can’t tell you anything about the other 6 mistakes in this article, because they involve technical knowledge that I can guarantee only to people who ask for my legal assistance, or to fellow lawyers who ask to be supported in their application to the European Court.
21 – How to contact a lawyer who specializes in applications to the ECHR?
If you believe you have suffered a human rights violation and you want to lodge an application with the ECHR, tell me about your case and your story.
I am Gianluca Piemonte, an Italian lawyer specialized in lodging applications with the ECHR. I have lodged a large number of applications against the Italian State or other European States.
I have already helped many other people and I would be glad to help you too.