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European Court of Human Rights

The European Court of Human Rights is an international court established under the European Convention on Human Rights.

The principal function of the Court is to ensure the observance of the engagements undertaken by the parties to the Convention and its Protocols.

The Court is comprised of 46 judges, elected by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. The judge elected in respect of Ireland, Dr Síofra O’Leary, has served as President of the Court since 1 November 2022, and is the first woman to do so.

The Court hears applications from individuals, non-governmental organisations, or groups of individuals who claim to be the victim of a violation of the Convention or its Protocols. The Court also hears inter-state cases, in which a contracting state alleges that there has been a breach of the Convention or its Protocols by another contracting state.

The contracting states undertake to abide by the final judgments of the Court in any case to which they are parties. The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe supervises the execution of the Court’s judgments.

Ireland signed the Convention on 4 November 1950, and ratified it on 25 February 1953. The Convention entered into force with respect to the State on 3 September 1953. Ireland was amongst the first states to recognise the right of individual application, and to accept the compulsory jurisdiction of the Court.

Ireland is a party to a number of Protocols to the Convention which expand the scope of the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Convention, and which have introduced significant reforms to the institutional machinery of the Convention system.

The Convention has been incorporated into Irish law by the European Convention on Human Rights Act 2003 (as amended).  

The first ever judgment delivered by the Court, on 14 November 1960, concerned an application against Ireland (Lawless v Ireland). A number of subsequent cases concerning Ireland have had a significant impact on the interpretation and application of the Convention, including Ireland v the United Kingdom (1978), Airey v Ireland (1979), Norris v Ireland (1988), Open Door and Dublin Well Woman v Ireland (1992), Bosphorous Airways v Ireland (2005), A, B and C v Ireland (2010), and O’Keeffe v Ireland (2014).

A list of judgments and decisions delivered by the Court in cases concerning Ireland is available on the Court’s HUDOC database. Further information on referring applications to the Court is available on the Court’s website.

The Department of Foreign Affairs acts as agent for the Government in proceedings before the Court.