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The New European Court of Human Rights
Procedure before the Court
C. Procedure before the Court

1. General

14. Any Contracting State (State application) or individual claiming to be a victim of a violation of the Convention (individual application) may lodge directly with the Court in Strasbourg an application alleging a breach by a Contracting State of one of the Convention rights. A notice for the guidance of applicants and forms for making applications may be obtained from the Registry.

15. The procedure before the new European Court of Human Rights is adversarial and public. Hearings are, in principle, public, unless the Chamber/Grand Chamber decides otherwise on account of exceptional circumstances. Memorials and other documents filed with the Court's Registry by the parties are accessible to the public.

16. Individual applicants may submit applications themselves, but legal representation is recommended, and even required for hearings or after a decision declaring an application admissible. The Council of Europe has set up a legal aid scheme for applicants who do not have sufficient means.

17. The official languages of the Court are English and French, but applications may be drafted in one of the official languages of the Contracting States. Once the application has been declared admissible, one of the Court's official languages must be used, unless the President of the Chamber/Grand Chamber authorises the continued use of the language of the application.

2. Admissibility procedure

18. Each individual application is assigned to a Section, whose President designates a rapporteur. After a preliminary examination of the case, the rapporteur decides whether it should be dealt with by a three-member Committee or by a Chamber.

19. A Committee may decide, by unanimous vote, to declare inadmissible or strike out an application where it can do so without further examination.

20. Individual applications which are not declared inadmissible by Committees or which are referred directly to a Chamber by the rapporteur and State applications are examined by a Chamber. Chambers determine both admissibility and merits, usually in separate decisions but where appropriate together.

21. Chambers may at any time relinquish jurisdiction in favour of a Grand Chamber where a case raises a serious question of interpretation of the Convention or where there is a risk of departing from existing case-law, unless one of the parties objects to such relinquishment within one month of notification of the intention to relinquish.

22. The first stage of the procedure is generally written, although the Chamber may decide to hold a hearing, in which case issues arising in relation to the merits will normally also be addressed.

23. Chamber decisions on admissibility, which are taken by majority vote, must contain reasons and be made public.

3. Procedure on the merits

24. Once the Chamber has decided to admit the application, it may invite the parties to submit further evidence and written observations, including any claims for "just satisfaction" by the applicant, and to attend a public hearing on the merits of the case.

25. The President of the Chamber may, in the interests of the proper administration of justice, invite or grant leave to any Contracting State which is not party to the proceedings, or any person concerned who is not the applicant, to submit written comments, and, in exceptional circumstances, to make representations at the hearing. A Contracting State whose national is an applicant in the case is entitled to intervene as of right.

26. During the procedure on the merits, negotiations aimed at securing a friendly settlement may be conducted through the intermediary of the Registrar. The friendly settlement negotiations are confidential.

4. Judgments

27. Chambers decide by a majority vote. Any judge who has taken part in the consideration of the case is entitled to append to the judgment a separate opinion, either concurring or dissenting, or a bare statement of dissent.

28. Within three months of delivery of the judgment of a Chamber, any party may request that a case be referred to the Grand Chamber if it raises a serious question of interpretation or application or a serious issue of general importance. Such requests are examined by a Grand Chamber panel of five judges composed of the President of the Court, the Section Presidents, with the exception of the Section President who presides over the Section to which the Chamber that gave judgment belongs, and another judge selected by rotation from judges who were not members of the original Chamber.

29. A Chamberís judgment becomes final at the expiry of the three month period or earlier if the parties announce that they have no intention of requesting a referral or after a decision of the panel rejecting the request for referral.

30. If the panel accepts the request, the Grand Chamber renders its decision on the case in the form of a judgment. The Grand Chamber decides by a majority vote and its judgments are final.

31. All final judgments of the Court are binding on the respondent States concerned.

32. Responsibility for supervising the execution of judgments lies with the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. It is thus for the Committee of Ministers to verify whether States in respect of which a violation of the Convention is found have taken adequate remedial measures to comply with the specific or general obligations arising out the Courtís judgments.

5. Advisory opinions

33. The Court may, at the request of the Committee of Ministers, give advisory opinions on legal questions concerning the interpretation of the Convention and Protocols.

Decisions of the Committee of Ministers to request an advisory opinion are taken by a majority vote.

34. Advisory opinions are given by the Grand Chamber and given by a majority vote. Any judge may attach to the advisory opinion, a separate opinion or a bare statement of dissent.