The Thorny Path to the European Court of Human Rights

posted 21 Feb 2014, 10:02 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 21 Feb 2014, 10:07 ]
17 February 2014

Vera Vasilieva

From 1 January 2014 the form that needs to be completed to make an application to the European Court of Human Right has changed. On Friday, 14 February, at a regular round table entitled ‘Strasbourg Get Together’, lawyers from the International Protection Centre spoke about the requirements of this new form and about the unexpected difficulties that may await applicants on their way to European justice.

The round table meets regularly at the Independent Press Centre in Moscow to discuss new developments at the European justice institutions. On this occasion the main speakers were director of the International Protection Centre Oksana Preobrazhenskaya and the Centre’s project director, commissioner of the International Commission of Jurists and member of that organization’s executive committee, Karinna Moskalenko.

The new application form is available as a PDF file which must be filled out. Both the form itself and the instructions on how to complete it are published on the website of the European Court of Human Rights but may still give rise to questions on the part of applicants and lawyers. Oksana Preobrazhenskaya sought to explain these issues, and discussed explanations she had received directly from the staff of the European Court of Human Rights.

As the Centre’sdirector stressed, the form must be completed with great care. It’s enough to miss one of the points – say the gender of the applicant – and the application will not be registered.

"The new form has been made in such a way that it provides a template for lawyers from the European Court of Human Rights and enables them to see what fits within the template and what does not. This has been done to make the work of the Court easier," Oksana Preobrazhenskaya stressed.

The first point to which she directed attention was the abolition of preliminary contacts before the submission of an application. At the same time it remains very important to observe the six month period for the submission of applications and the need to exhaust all domestic legal remedies.

In other words, in a case when there have been violations of the European Convention of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, for example of Article 3 ("prohibition of torture”) or Article 5 ("right to liberty and personal security"), and the applicant has exhausted domestic legal remedies, he "must not wait for a final verdict in the criminal case against him", Karinna Moskalenko explained. If subsequently "the need arises to submit an application under Article 6 ("right to fair trial"), then you submit a new application, and not an addition to the application already submitted ". 

Left to right: Karinna Moskalenko, Oksana Preobrazhenskaya. Photo Vera Vasiieva,

If the application is submitted by two or more applicants, then the evidence of each of them is presented on a separate form, Oksana Preobrazhenskaya explained.

It sometimes happens that the representative of the applicant is a lawyer without the right to represent a client in domestic courts. All these aspects also must be reflected in the application form.

Moreover, the length of the text setting out the facts of the case is also regulated, the size of the font, the margins and other aspects. There is a requirement for the applicant’s ‘real’ signature on othe document.

These changes, evidently, may seriously complicate the life of our fellow citizens for whom the European Court is often the last resort to achieve justice, and at times to save life. Nonetheless, Karinna Moskalenko remains optimistic.

"In doing all we can to satisfy the high demands of the lawyers at the European Court of Human Rights, we satisfy the demands of our clients because he they want to fit, in so far as they possibly can, ‘within the template’," she believes.

At the same time it is worth recalling the fact that applications arriving in Strasbourg do not immediately come to the eyes of the judges. As is well-known, lawyer-interns work at the European Court of Human Rights ((including from Russia) who sort through the applications and assist in identifying those that are clearly inadmissible. They do not have the right to take independent decisions, but they prepare the "preliminary opinions" on the basis of which the judges subsequently issue their decisions on admissibility. Some Russian human rights defenders have expressed concerns about a possible lack of impartiality of these lawyer-interns.