On May 5, 1949, representatives from Belgium, Denmark, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom met in London and signed the Treaty of London (Statute of the Council of Europe).
Their representatives were ”[c]onvinced that the pursuit of peace based upon justice and international co-operation is vital for the preservation of human society and civilization.” (Id. Preamble.) The Council of Europe was established by declaring that “[t]he aim of the Council of Europe is to achieve a greater unity between its members for the purpose of safeguarding and realising the ideals and principles which are their common heritage and facilitating their economic and social progress.” (Id. art. 1.)
Today the Council of Europe has 47 member countries, including all 28 EU member countries. Countries are represented in both the Parliamentary Assembly (PACE), Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, and the Committee of Ministers. The Committee of Ministers has a revolving chairmanship of six months, with Finland currently holding the Presidency.
European Convention on Human Rights and European Court of Human Rights
Arguably, the Council’s greatest accomplishments were the adoption of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the creation of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). Signing the ECHR is a prerequisite for joining the Council of Europe. The EU is currently not a signatory; however, it is required by the Treaty of Lisbon to accede to the ECHR.
Just shy of ten years after the creation of the Council of Europe, on April 20, 1959, the ECtHR was officially opened when the solemn installation of the Court took place. In total 15 judges were sworn in, one from each of the countries that were then members of the Court.
The judges were:
Kemal Arik (Turkey),
Einar Arnalds (Iceland),
Giorgio Balladore Pallieri (Italy),
René Cassin (France),
Åke Ernst Holmbäck (Sweden),
Georges Maridakis (Greece),
Richard McGonigal (Ireland),
Lord McNair (the United Kingdom),
Hermann Mosler (Germany),
Eugène Rodenbourg (Luxembourg),
Henri Rolin (Belgium),
Alf Niels Christian Ross (Denmark),
Baron Frederik Mari Van Asbeck (the Netherlands),
Alfred Verdross (Austria)
Terje Wold (Norway)
Today, a total of 47 judges serve on the court and sit for nine-year terms, which are not renewable.
Cases are brought by individuals against member state countries after the individual has exhausted all domestic remedies (i.e. their case has been appealed to the highest court). If admissible, a case is heard and decided by an ECtHR panel of three or seven judges. Cases may also be heard by the Grand Chamber, where seventeen judges participate. Following a panel decision, the applicant, the respondent government, or both may submit a referral request to have the case heard before the Grand Chamber. However, such requests are only granted in exceptional circumstances. A denied referral request cannot be appealed. The Court can also decide on its own to hear a case in the Grand Chamber. The ECtHR is not an appellate court and does not overturn the domestic court verdict, it only determines if a violation of the ECHR by the State has taken place, and awards damages. Court decisions are binding on member states and have led to member countries changing their domestic laws to prevent further violations of the ECHR. (ECHR, art. 46)
Resources Available at the Law Library of Congress
- Publications de la Cour européenne des droits de l’homme. Série A, Arrêts et décisions = Publications of the European Court of Human Rights. Series A, Judgments and decisions.
- European human rights : taking a case under the Convention
- Bringing cases before the European Commission and Court of Human Rights / edited by Leif Berg.
- The case of Kjeldsen, Busk Madsen, and Pedersen : judgment
For a full list of the Law Library’s holdings on the Council of Europe and the ECtHR, please search the Library of Congress online catalog.
The Council of Europe is also covered in a number of Law Library of Congress reports.
A video overview of the Council of Europe