European Court of Human Rights to Begin Implementing Stricter Requirements for Individual Applications in 2014

ECtHR (COE)Beginning January 1, 2014, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) will apply several major changes to its consideration of individual complaints, pursuant to the entry into force of the new Rule 47 of its Rules of Court. [ECtHR Press Release]  The changes to Rule 47 concern the form and content of initial applications themselves, and enforcement of the “six-month rule.” By implementing more stringent requirements, the ECtHR continues to institute reforms aimed at reducing its heavy caseload.  The amendments to Rule 47 are also designed to accelerate the ECtHR’s initial determination as to whether an application is allocated to a judicial formation or is rejected without consideration by the court.

Formal Application Requirements

Pursuant to Rule 47, all application forms sent to the ECtHR must be completed in full and accompanied by relevant documentation.  Whereas Rule 47(4) previously stated that “[f]ailure to comply with the requirements set out in paragraphs 1 and 2 [concerning the application form and required documentation] of this Rule may result in the application not being examined by the Court,” (emphasis added), the new Rule 47 now states in part 5.1 that failure to comply with the application and documentation requirements “will result” in the application’s rejection, unless:

  • a)     the applicant has provided an adequate explanation for the failure to comply;
  • b)     the application concerns a request for an interim measure;
  • c)     the Court otherwise directs of its own motion or at the request of an applicant.

While the previous version of Rule 47 required applicants to submit “any relevant documents” and decisions, the new language of specifies which types of documentation must accompany the application form, and further requires that such documents be  listed chronologically, numbered consecutively, and identified clearly.  See ECtHR, Rules of Court, Rule 47(3.1); (3.2). The new Rule 47 also places a 20-page limitation for any narrative explanation of the facts or legal argument that accompanies the application form. See Rule 47(2)(b).

Stricter Interpretation of the Six-Month Rule

The “date of introduction” by which the ECtHR evaluates the timeliness of the application shall, under the new rule, be the postmarked date of the application that fully meets the requirements of Rule 47.  See ECtHR, Rules of Court, Rule 47(6). This is a significant change from the previous standard, under which an application was considered timely if the European Court received a “communication from the applicant setting out, even summarily, the subject matter of the application” within six months of exhaustion of domestic remedies, so long as the applicant satisfied the remaining formal requirements within a time period specified by the tribunal. See former Rule 47(5).

In practical terms, this means that applicants will generally no longer have the opportunity to supplement or correct an application after the six-month mark if the initial submission does not fully comply with all the formal requirements – from the applicant’s signature to the ordering of attached documentation.  While some applicants may be permitted to provide additional, necessary information after submitting a complaint (the new section 5.2 of Rule 47 provides that “[t]he Court may in any case request an applicant to provide information or documents in any form or manner which may be appropriate within a fixed time-limit”), the six-month clock will continue to run until the ECtHR is satisfied that all requirements have been met. Applicants who submit their complaints close to the six-month deadline but fail to provide a required piece of information will likely lose access to redress before the European Court.  A caveat can be found in Rule 47(6(b)), which provides, “Where it finds justified, the Court may nevertheless decide that a different date shall be considered to be the date of introduction.”

A new and simplified application form will be placed on the ECtHR’s website on January 1, 2014.  Guidelines for applicants to comply with the new rules will also reportedly be made available in the official languages of State Parties to the European Convention on Human Rights. [ECtHR Press Release]

Other Reforms at the ECtHR

The new Rules of Court are one of several recent and anticipated changes to the European Court’s processing of individual complaints. Additional reforms to the European Court’s procedures will further restrict victims’ access to the tribunal when Protocol No. 15 enters into force.  In particular, Protocol No. 15 will amend the European Convention on Human Rights to reduce from six months to four months the window of time during which an applicant may submit a complaint following exhaustion of domestic remedies; and, it will tighten the admissibility requirement that the applicant show a “significant disadvantage” by eliminating the exception for cases that have not been considered by a domestic court. Protocol No. 15 will enter into force once all States Parties to the European Convention (the 47 Council of Europe Member States) have ratified it.

See the European Court of Human Rights’ Practical Guide on Admissibility Criteria (2011) for more information on the tribunal’s interpretation of the requirements for its exercise of jurisdiction and consideration of an individual complaint. For details on submitting an application to the ECtHR, visit the  page on how to Apply to the Court.