Applications by individuals against contracting states, alleging that the state violates their rights under the European Convention on Human Rights, can be made by any person, non-governmental organisation or group of individuals. Although the official languages of the Court are English and French applications may be submitted in any one of the official languages of the contracting states. An application has to be made in writing and signed by the applicant or by the applicant's representative. Once registered with the Court, the case is assigned to a judge rapporteur, which can make the final decision that the case is inadmissible. A case may be inadmissible when it is incompatible with the requirements of ratione materiae, ratione temporis or ratione personae, or if the case cannot be proceeded with on formal grounds, such as non-exhaustion of domestic remedies, lapse of the six months from the last internal decision complained of, anonymity, substantial identity with a matter already submitted to the Court, or with another procedure of international investigation. If the rapporteur judge decides that the case can proceed, the case if referred to a Chamber of the Court which, unless it decides that the application is inadmissible, communicates the case to the government of the state against which the application is made, asking the government to present its observations on the case. The Chamber of Court then deliberates and judges the case on its admissibility and its merit. Cases which raise serious questions of interpretation and application of the European Convention on Human Rights, a serious issue of general importance, or which may depart from previous case law can be heard in the Grand Chamber if all parties to the case agree to the Chamber of the Court relinquishing jurisdiction to the Grand Chamber. A panel of five judges decides whether the Grand Chamber accepts the referral.
Any contracting state to the European Convention on Human Rights can sue another contracting state in the Court for alleged breaches of the Convention, although in practice this is very rare.
The Committee of Ministers may, by majority vote, ask the Court to deliver an advisory opinion on the interpretation of the European Convention on Human Rights, unless the matter relates to the content and scope of fundamental rights which the Court already considers.
After the preliminary finding of admissibility the Court examines the case by hearing representations from both parties. The Court may undertake any investigation it deems necessary on the facts or issues raised in the application and contracting states are required to provide the Court with all necessary assistance for this purpose. The European Convention on Human Rights requires all hearings to be in public, unless there are exceptional circumstances justifying the holding of a private hearing. In practice the majority of cases are heard in private following written pleadings. In confidential proceedings the Court may assist both parties in securing a settlement, in which case the Court monitors the compliance of the agreement with the Convention. However, in many cases, a hearing is not held. The judgment of the Grand Chamber is final. Judgments by the Chamber of the Court becomes final three months after they are issued, unless a reference to the Grand Chamber for review or appeal has been made. If the panel of the Grand Chamber rejects the request for referral, the judgment of the Chamber of the Court becomes final.