The Court was established on the 21 January 1959 on the basis of Article 19 of the European Convention on Human Rights when its first members were elected by the Consultative Assembly of the Council of Europe. The Convention charges the Court with ensuring the observance of the engagement undertaken by the contracting states in relation to the Convention and its protocols, that is ensuring the enforcement and implementation of the European Convention in the member states of the Council of Europe. The jurisdiction of the Court has been recognised to date by all 47 member states of the Council of Europe. In 1998, the Court became a full-time institution and the European Commission of Human Rights, which used to decide on admissibility of applications, was abolished by Protocol 11.
A piece of the Berlin Wall in front of the European Court of Human Rights
The accession of new states to the European Convention on Human Rights following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 led to a sharp increase in applications filed in the Court. The efficiency of the Court was threatened seriously by the large number of pending applications, which were accumulating and increasing steadily. In 1999 8,400 applications were allocated to be heard. In 2003 27,200 cases were filed and the number of pending applications rose to approximately 65,000. In 2005, the Court opened 45,500 case files. In 2009 57,200 applications were allocated, with the number of pending applications rose to 119,300. At the time more than 90 percent of them, were declared to be inadmissible, and the majority of cases decided, around 60 percent of the decisions by the Court related to what is termed repetitive cases, where the Court has already delivered judgement finding a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights or where well established case law exists on a similar case. Protocol 11 was designed to deal with the backlog of pending cases by establishing the Court and its judges as a full-time institution, by simplifying the procedure and reducing the length of proceedings. However, as the workload of the Court continued to increase, the contracting states agreed that further reforms were necessary and in May 2004 the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers adopted Protocol 14 to the European Convention on Human Rights. Protocol 14 was drafted with the aim of reducing the workload of the Court and that of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, which supervises the execution of judgements, so that the Court could focus on cases that raise important human rights issues.
Protocol no.14 reforms
Protocol no.14 entered into force on 1 June 2010, three months after it was ratified by all 47 contracting states to the Convention. Between 2006 and 2010, Russia was the only contracting state to refuse to ratify Protocol 14. In 2010, Russia ended its opposition to the protocol, in exchange for a guarantee that Russian judges would be involved in reviewing complaints against Russia. Protocol no.14 led to reforms in three areas: The Court's filtering capacity was reinforced to deal with clearly inadmissible applications, new admissibility criteria were introduced so that cases where the applicant has not suffered a significant disadvantage would be declared inadmissible, and measures were introduced to deal more effectively with repetitive cases.
Protocol 14 amended the Convention so that judges would be elected for a non-renewable term of nine years, whereas previously judges served a six year term with the option of renewal. Amendments were also made so that a single judge could reject plainly inadmissible applications, while prior to this protocol only a three judge committee could make this final decision. In cases of doubt, the single judge refers the applications to the Committee of the Court. A single judge may not examine applications against the state which nominated him. The three judge committee has jurisdiction to declare applications admissible and decide on the merits of the case if it was clearly well founded and based on well established case law. Previously the three judge committee could only declare the case inadmissible, but could not decide on the merits of the case, which could only be done by a chambers of seven judges or the Grand Chamber. Protocol no.14 also provides that when a three judge committee decides on the merits of a case, the judge elected to represent that state is no longer a compulsory member of this committee. The judge can be invited by the committee, to replace one of its members, but only for specific reasons, such as when the application relates to the exhaustion of national legal remedies.
Protocol 14 empowered the Court to declare applications inadmissible where the applicant has not suffered a significant disadvantage and which do not raise serious questions affecting the application or the interpretation of the Convention, or important questions concerning national law. The European Commissioner for Human Rights is now allowed to intervene in cases as a third party, providing written comments and taking part in hearings. In order to reduce the workload of the Court, Protocol 14 states that the Court should encourage the parties to reach a settlement at an early stage of the proceedings, especially in repetitive cases. The Committee of Ministers supervises the settlement's execution. Protocol no.14 also allows the Committee of Ministers to ask the Court to interpret a final judgement if there are difficulties in the execution of a final judgement. In order to prevent repetitive applications concerning structural problems in contracting states on which the Court has previously made a final decision, the Committee of Ministers can in exceptional circumstances and with a two-thirds majority, initiate proceedings for non-compliance with a final decision in the Grand Chamber of the Court. Article 17 of protocol no.14 allows the European Union to become party to the Convention. In turn the Lisbon Treaty, which entered force in December 2009, provides that the European Union should accede and become a party to the Convention. The Committee of Ministers is to evaluate in 2012 to 2015 the extent to which the implementation of Protocol no.14 has improved the effectiveness of the Court. The Committee of Ministers is to decide before 2019 whether more reforms of the Court are necessary.
Main article: List of judges of the European Court of Human Rights
Prior to the adoption of Protocol no.14, judges were elected for a six-year term, with the option of renewal of this term. Now judges are elected for a non-renewable nine year term. The number of full-time judges sitting in the Court is equal to that of the contracting states to the European Convention on Human Rights. The Convention requires that judges are of high moral character and to have qualifications suitable for high judicial office, or be a jurisconsult of recognised competence. Judges are elected by majority vote in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europefrom the three candidates nominated by each contracting state. Judges are elected whenever a sitting judge's term has expired or when a new state accedes to the Covenant. The retiring age of judges is 70, but they may continue to serve as judges until a new judge is elected or until the cases in which they sit have come to an end. The judges perform their duties in an individual capacity and are prohibited from having any institutional or other type of ties with the contracting state on behalf of whom they were elected. To ensure the independence of the Court judges are not allowed to participate in activity that may compromise the Court's independence. A judge cannot hear or decide a case if he has a family or professional relationship with the parties. Judges can only be dismissed from office if the other judges decide, by two-thirds majority, that the judge has ceased to fulfil the required conditions. Judges enjoy, during their term as judges, the privileges and immunities provided for in Article 40 of the Statute of the Council of Europe.