France and the European Court of Human Rights
The Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (hereinafter “the European Convention on Human Rights”) was drafted in the Council of Europe. It was opened for signature in Rome on 4 November 1950 and entered into force in September 1953. It was ratified by France on 3 May 1974 and France approved the right of individual application in 1981.
Any individual may lodge an application with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) provided that they have exhausted all the domestic remedies and that the case falls within the scope of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
When a judgment is handed down by the European Court of Human Rights, the State is obligated to take the execution measures necessary to prevent the repetition of the breach (binding force of judgments under Article 46 of the Convention). The execution of the judgment must be monitored by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. States must report on the responses to individual measures (financial compensation, for example) and general measures (adaptation of legislation).
The European Court of Human Rights, which is headquartered in Strasbourg, is composed of 47 judges (1 judge elected by each State party to the European Convention on Human Rights).
The President of the Court is currently Robert Spano, a judge elected on behalf of Iceland. He took this post over from the Greek judge, Linos-Alexandre Sicilianos. Elected by judges of the Court at the age of 47, he has become the youngest president of the Court.
The French judge, Mattias Guyomar, a member of the Counseil d’Etat, took office on 22 June 2020 for a term of 9 non-renewable years, succeeding André Potocki. At the Conseil d’État, he was a rapporteur in the legal section, head of the documentation centre and public rapporteur in the legal section, government commissioner at the Tribunal des Conflits and judge in the legal section. Since 2016, he has been the Chamber President of the legal section.
When the European Court of Human Rights rules that there has been a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights, it has real practical consequences. The States involved must take measures to comply with such judgments as they are enforceable under Article 46 of the Convention.
The European Court of Human Rights has to rule on a very large number of applications. Various reforms implemented since 2011 have significantly reduced the number of pending applications from 160,000 in 2011 to 61,100 as of 29 February 2020. It is, however, important to remain vigilant and reviews are being carried out to ensure the long-term future of the Convention system.
Very few of the total number of applications to the European Court of Human Rights come from France. As of 3 July 2020, 481 applications regarding France were pending before a judicial formation, i.e. fewer than 0.8% of all pending applications.
In 2019, rulings against France accounted for 1.64% of rulings handed down by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). In 2019, the ECHR dealt with 597 applications concerning France, including 578 that were declared inadmissible or that were not pursued (applications struck out).
The Court delivered 19 judgments (regarding 19 applications), of which 13 noted one or more breaches of the European Convention on Human Rights. Despite a very slight increase in 2019, which can be in part explained by the observation of a breach delivered by the Court in 7 earlier cases relating to policy custody, these figures have almost continually decreased since 2010 and have been relatively stable for several years.
This decrease illustrates the fact that, after undertaking legislative reforms to resolve certain “structural” problems that had generated a large number of applications in the past (notably with regard to Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights and judgment timeframes), France no longer has a large number of applications.
France actively participated in reflection on the more long-term future of the European Convention on Human Rights system, including within the framework of the High-Level Conference held in Brussels in May 2015. On that occasion, States reaffirmed the importance of the right of individual application before the European Court of Human Rights and the principle of subsidiarity and stressed the shared responsibility of Member States, the European Court of Human Rights and the Committee of Ministers in the implementation of the Convention. More recently, within the framework of the Copenhagen Conference in May 2018, France worked to reaffirm support for the States to the Convention and the European Court of Human Rights in the face of attempts to call it into question.
As part of work of the Steering Committee for Human Rights (made up of experts from 47 Member States of the Council of Europe who conduct, under the aegis of the Committee of Ministers, intergovernmental work in the area of human rights), France is involved in work to strengthen the implementation at national level of the Convention system and to improve the protection of social rights in Europe.
The Treaty of Lisbon adopted the principle of European Union accession to the European Convention on Human Rights. Adjustments to the Convention system are nevertheless necessary for a non-state body to become a 48th High Contracting Party based on a complex legal system.
Negotiations, in which France participates actively, are under way within the Council of Europe.
From 17 May to 27 November 2019, France held the Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. France wished to take the opportunity offered by its Chairmanship to help build tomorrow’s Council of Europe.
One of France’s objectives was to strengthen the European human rights system. With this in mind, it held a conference for the supreme courts of Council of Europe Member States on 12 and 13 September 2019 and a conference for justice ministers on 14 and 15 October 2019.
Updated: November 2020