Hester Swift, April 2017
About the author
This guide was created by Hester Swift, Foreign & International Law Librarian at the IALS Library.
Click here for Hester's full profile and contact details.
Reference Desk hours:
Tel (0)20 7862 5790
Related IALS Guides
We also recommend the following online legal research guides:
The Council of Europe (CoE) is an intergovernmental organisation which seeks to promote the rule of law, democracy and human rights in Europe. Created in 1949, it is based in Strasbourg, France. It has 47 member states and French and English are its official languages. The Council of Europe should not be confused with the European Union, which is a different organisation.
The CoE operates by means of conventions, judicial decisions, recommendations, technical assistance and partnership programmes. It produces reports and studies and conducts awareness campaigns. Its principal institutions are:
- Committee of Ministers - the decision-making body, consisting of foreign ministers from the member countries or their permanent representatives; set up by the Statute of the Council of Europe
- Parliamentary Assembly - a consultative body consisting of delegates from parliamentary bodies across Europe; set up by the Statute of the Council of Europe (under the original name, Consultative Assembly)
- European Court of Human Rights - set up in 1959 under the European Convention on Human Rights
- Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights - a non-judicial institution set up in 1999 to further the CoE's human rights work
- Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe - a representative body committed to local democracy; created in 1957 as the Conference of Local Authorities of Europe and renamed the Standing Conference of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe in 1975, before receiving its current title in 1994
From 1954 until 1998 there was also a body called the European Commission of Human Rights, established under the European Convention on Human Rights. Its role was to issue decisions on the admissibility of applications to enforce Convention rights and to produce reports on admissible applications, with the aim of encouraging settlements. The Commission merged with the Court in November 1998.
IALS Library holds Council of Europe documentation where it is of legal interest; we also have relevant commentary in books and journals.
The Statute of the Council of Europe
The Council of Europe was founded by the Statute of the Council of Europe, in 1949. The Statute is available on the CoE website, together with details of signatures, ratifications, declarations and reservations, and a summary of key points.
The Statute was officially published as the first document in the CoE's European Treaty Series (ETS 1) It also appears in the UK Treaty Series (TS 51, 1949) and the United Nations Treaty Series (87 UNTS 103). All these series are held at IALS.
More than two hundred conventions and protocols have been adopted under the auspices of the Council of Europe.
Council of Europe Treaty Series and other sources
All the conventions and protocols are published in the official European Treaty Series (ETS). This publication was re-named Council of Europe Treaty Series (CETS) in 2004, but the numerical sequence of treaties continues from the ETS to the CETS.
The entire European/Council of Europe Treaty Series is held at IALS (FOL GO1.A.20.E.1). It is also on the CoE Treaty Office website, although only the print version is deemed to be authentic (see disclaimer).
IALS also has the CoE's unofficial compilation, European Conventions and Agreements. This multi-volume set covers the period 1949 to 1998 and is provided by the CoE as a convenient source for researchers, containing details of treaty actions as well as the treaties themselves.
Council of Europe treaties also appear in the United Kingdom Treaty Series (UKTS) and the United Nations Treaty Series (UNTS), both of which are held at IALS. The UKTS is also available on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website; the UNTS is on the UN Treaty Collection website and on the subscription database HeinOnline.
European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR)
This is the best-known Council of Europe treaty. Its formal title is Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, but it is almost always known as the 'European Convention on Human Rights'. It was signed in 1950 and came into force in 1953; since then, numerous protocols have amended it.
The European Convention on Human Rights is number 5 in the European Treaty Series (ETS 5); it has also been published at UKTS 71 and at 213 UNTS 221. The protocols to the Convention have also been published in the ETS, UKTS and UNTS. The Convention is also in European conventions and agreements (vol. I), on the CoE Treaty Office website and on the website of the European Court of Human Rights.
Consolidated amended versions of the ECHR are available on the Council of Europe's website and in textbooks such as Brownlie's Documents on Human Rights (6th edition, OUP, 2010; in IALS).
For a substantial commentary on the Convention, see Theory and practice of the European Convention on Human Rights, ed. Pieter van Dijk et al (Intersentia, 2006). See also Jacobs, White and Ovey: the European Convention on Human Rights (6th ed., OUP, 2014).
The travaux préparatoires (preparatory documents) have been published in eight volumes as Collected edition of the "travaux préparatoires" of the European Convention on Human Rights (Martinus Nijhoff, 1975- ). This publication is held at IALS. There is also an online version, on the website of the Library of the European Court of Human Rights.
Signatures, ratifications and other treaty actions
For details of signatures, ratifications and other actions relating to Council of Europe treaties, the easiest place to look is the Treaty Office website Each treaty is accompanied by a chart of signatures and ratifications and a chart of reservations and declarations. Check the Recent Changes page as well, for recent treaty actions.
Other sources of this information include:
Human rights information bulletin. CoE, Directorate-General of Human Rights, 1978-2012 (title varies): 2000-2012 on CoE website - it ceased publication in 2012. IALS has it from 1982 - 2007 (incomplete), under the former title, Human rights: information sheet.
- European Conventions and Agreements. Cover the period 1949 to 1998; held at IALS.
- Chart showing signatures and ratifications of Council of Europe conventions and agreements. CoE, Directorate of Legal Affairs,1960 -1999; in IALS 1972-1993 only.
- For the ECHR only, details of signatures and ratifications appear in the Yearbook of the European Convention on Human Rights (CoE, Directorate-General of Human Rights, Martinus Nijhoff, 1955 - ) which is held at IALS.
Cases under the European Convention on Human Rights
Three Council of Europe institutions are, or have been, involved in making decisions enforcing the European Convention on Human Rights:
- the European Court of Human Rights
- the European Commission of Human Rights
- the Committee of Ministers
The European Court of Human Rights should not be confused with the Court of Justice of the European Union, which is a completely different court, belonging to a different organisation.
Council of Europe human rights cases are available on the HUDOC database, in various printed sources, on Westlaw UK and on Lexis®Library, as follows:-
HUDOC is the case database of the European Court of Human Rights, freely available on the Court's website. It contains*:
- judgments, decisions and advisory opinions of the European Court of Human Rights, 1959 to date
- resolutions of the Committee of Ministers:1959 to date (on execution, 1972 onwards; on merits, 1959 to July 2004)
- all admissibility decisions of the European Commission of Human Rights from 1986 onwards, and some from 1955-1985
- public reports by the European Commission of Human Rights,1963 onwards
- information about pending cases, including statements of facts and complaints (under 'Communicated Cases')
- summaries of selected cases (under 'Legal summaries')
- press releases issued by the Court's Registry
HUDOC defaults to searching for judgments of the Court's Grand Chamber and Chamber: to find other documents, tick the appropriate box.
*HUDOC User Manual (2016), p.16.
This database, launched in 2017, contains documents relating to the execution of European Court of Human Rights rulings, including:
dossiers detailing the status of execution of each judgment (under 'Cases' on the database menu)
- communications from the parties to a case and from NGOs (etc.)
- government actions plans and reports
decisions of the Council of Ministers
The same documents are also on the website of the Department for the Execution of Judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, together with annual reports, factsheets and other information .
Official printed sources of human rights cases
Almost all of the following publications are held at IALS Library.
European Court of Human Rights:
- Publications of the European Court of Human Rights. Series A: Judgments and Decisions, 1960 -1996 (cited as 'ECHR' or 'Series A')
- Publications of the European Court of Human Rights. Series B, Pleadings, oral arguments, and documents, 1960 - 1988 (cited as 'Series B')
- Reports of Judgments and Decisions, 1996 onwards (cited as 'ECHR')
Lists of judgments by date and subject appear in part two of the Yearbook of the European Convention on Human Rights, together with statistical analyses of the year's cases.
European Commission of Human Rights:
- Collection of Decisions of the European Commission of Human Rights, 1960-1974 (CD)
- Decisions and Reports,1975-1998 (DR)
Committee of Ministers
- Collection of recommendations, resolutions and declarations of the Committee of Ministers concerning human rights 1949-87. Council of Europe,1989.
- Recommendations to member states. Council of Europe, 1979-95; continued by:-
- Texts adopted by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. Council of Europe, 1996-1998 (not in IALS, but on Committee's website ); continued by:-
- Official gazette of the Council of Europe. Committee of Ministers part-volume. Council of Europe, 1999 - 2000 (not in IALS, but contents, i.e., adopted texts, on Committee's website).
- Recommendations published as monographs, for example, Freedom of exercise of the profession of lawyer : recommendation Rec(2000)21 adopted by the Committee of Ministers... (selection held at IALS - see Catalogue).
- Collection of resolutions adopted by the Committee of Ministers in application of articles 32 and 54 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, 1959-1983. Council of Europe, 1984.
- Yearbook of the European Convention on Human Rights, part 2, arranged by the country concerned (selected resolutions only). Martinus Nijhoff 1960 - .
Selected Court and Commission cases appear in European Human Rights Reports (Sweet and Maxwell, 1979 - ) and Butterworths Human Rights Cases (LexisNexis, 1996 - ).
IALS has both series in printed format. EHRR is also on Westlaw UK and BHRC is on Lexis®Library (see IALS Electronic Law Library).
Research guide and analytical information
The Court has produced a detailed guide to tracking down ECHR cases, Finding and understanding the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights (Council of Europe / European Court of Human Rights, January 2017).
The Court's website has a Case Law Analysis page with procedural information, research reports and case law guides.
See also Eggermont, Frederic and Smis, Stefaan, Research Guide to Instruments of European Regional Organizations. 2nd ed. (Intersentia, 2015), chapter II.
Cases under the European Social Charter
The European Social Charter of 1961 is a Council of Europe treaty protecting economic and social rights, such as the right to work and the right to social and medical assistance. It is administered by the CoE's European Committee of Social Rights.
There are two monitoring mechanisms for the European Social Charter (ESC):
- the reporting system: parties to the ESC report on their implementation of its requirements and the European Committee of Social Rights then issues official conclusions on their compliance with the treaty
- the collective complaints system (introduced in 1998): complaints regarding breaches of the ESC may be brought before the European Committee of Social Rights and the Committee issues a decision in each case
The Committee's decisions and conclusions are available in the CoE's HUDOC-ESC database. Its conclusions are also published by the CoE in the series European Social Charter: European Committee of Social Rights: conclusions (Council of Europe, Directorate of Human Rights, 1970 - ; title varies; not held at IALS).
The CoE's Digest of Decisions and Conclusions of the European Committee of Social Rights includes extracts from selected decisions and conclusions, in part two. This online publication was compiled in 2008; a new edition is forthcoming.
Further information about the European Social Charter and its implementation may be found in the Human Rights section of the CoE website.
Other official publications
The Council of Europe institutions produce many types of official document, including the following (not an exhaustive list):
Committee of Ministers
Collection of recommendations, resolutions and declarations of the Committee of Ministers concerning human rights 1949-87, Strasbourg, Council of Europe,1989 (held at IALS).
Recommendations to member states, Strasbourg, Council of Europe, 1979-95 (held at IALS). Continued by:-
Texts adopted by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, Strasbourg, Council of Europe, 1996-1998 (not in IALS, but on Committee's website ); continued by:-
Official gazette of the Council of Europe. Committee of Ministers part-volume, Strasbourg, Council of Europe, 1999 - 2000 (not in IALS, but contents, i.e., adopted texts, on Committee's website).
- Recommendations published as monographs, for example, Freedom of exercise of the profession of lawyer : recommendation Rec(2000)21 adopted by the Committee of Ministers... (selection held at IALS - see Catalogue).
- Committee of Ministers website, Documents page: provides adopted texts (including recommendations, decisions and resolutions), activity reports, working documents, meeting documents and other material.
Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe
- Documents and texts adopted. Strasbourg, Council of Europe, 1957 - 58 (not in IALS). Resolutions, recommendations and opinions for this period are listed on Congress's website, but the full text of these documents is not available online.
- Texts adopted / Adopted texts. Strasbourg, Council of Europe, 1960-98 and 2001 - (IALS has1968-89). On Congress's website in the form of browseable lists of recommendations, resolutions and opinions and also as part of the Congress's Documents database
Official gazette of the Council of Europe. Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe part-volume. Strasbourg, Council of Europe, 1999-2000 (not in IALS).
- Adopted Texts page of Congress's website: provides lists of all recommendations, resolutions and opinions in reverse chronological order, with links to the full text, where available; it also has an index to adopted texts.
- Document database (on Congress website): covers adopted texts as well as many other official documents emanating from the Congress.
European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI)
This Council of Europe human rights body, created in 1994, monitors racism and intolerance in CoE member states, then publishes reports and issues recommendations. It also addresses general policy recommendations to all member states.
- Country reports: ECRI's country-by-country approach: series of pamphlets published in the 1990s, each containing reports on several states; IALS has volume II only; individual country reports are published as printed monographs and / or on the ECRI website, under 'Country Monitoring Work'; all the ECRI's country reports are alsoon the HUDOC-ECRI database
Government responses to ECRI reports: may be published as appendices to country reports; also on HUDOC-ECRI, under 'Government observations'
- General policy recommendations: published as printed monographs, in periodic compilations and/or on the ECRI website; searchable via HUDOC-ECRI; IALS holds a compilation published in 1999 (European Commission against Racism and Intolerance : compilation of ECRI's general policy recommendations) - but the ECRI website has a more recent one.
- Interim conclusions: on ECRI website, under 'Country Monitoring Work'; searchable via HUDOC-ECRI database
- ECRI website also provides other documents, including statements / declarations and annual reports (1997 to date).
European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission)
The main documents issued by the Venice Commission include opinions, studies, reports, codes of practice and checklists.
- Opinions and studies relating to democracy in particular states: available on the Commission's website, listed by country (there is also a search facility)
- Reference documents: reports, codes of practice and checklists issued by the Commission on topics such as the rule of law, elections and minority rights; they are available on its website.
- Compilation of Venice Commission opinions and reports [or opinions, reports and studies] concerning... : systematic collections of extracts from opinions, reports and/or studies on particular topics, published by the Commission from 2011 onwards; not held at IALS, but available on the website.
- Annual reports and many other publications may also be found on the Commission's website.
European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT)
The CPT administers the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. It visits places of detention, then sends reports to the states concerned; the state's government may then issue an official response. If a state does not cooperate with the Committee's recommendations, the Committee may choose to make a public statement.
The Committee also publishes an annual 'General Report' and produces standards on specific topics, such solitary confinement, psychiatric detention and medical evidence of ill-treatment.
- Visit reports and government responses: online in HUDOC-CPT Database and on CPT website; also published by the CoE as printed monographs (not held at IALS); brief details or summaries in CPT's annual General Report
- Public statements: published in the CPT's annual General Report; online in HUDOC-CPT Database; also found with the relevant visit report on CPT website
- Standards: published in the General Report; on Standards page of CPT website, arranged by topic; also in HUDOC-CPT Database
- General Report: whole set on CPT website (1989/90 to date)
Parliamentary Assembly (formerly Consultative Assembly)
- Texts adopted by the Assembly, 1949 - 2008 (IALS has 1950-2008), electronic-only from 2009; all available on Assembly's website
- Official report of debates, 1949 - (verbatim records; not in IALS); also available on Assembly's website
- Orders of the day, minutes of proceedings, 1949 - 2006 (not in IALS), electronic only 2007-2009, then subsumed into Verbatim Records on CoE website (see below).
- Documents: working papers, 1949 - (IALS 1949 - ); working documents are also on Assembly's website (back to 1949)
- Official gazette of the Council of Europe. Parliamentary Assembly part-volume, 1999 - 2000 (not in IALS)
For more information about Council of Europe documentation, see Eggermont, Frederic and Smis, Stefaan, Research Guide to Instruments of European Regional Organizations. 2nd ed. (Intersentia, 2015), chapter II (in IALS).
- Digest of Strasbourg case-law relating to the European Convention on Human Rights, produced by the CoE's Directorate of Human Rights and the Europa Instituut at the University of Utrecht; published by Carl Heymanns. Covers cases from 1955 to 1982, with looseleaf supplements up to about 1997. IALS has the main volumes, plus supplements up to 1992.
- Human rights case digest, started in 1990 by the British Institute of Human Rights, Kings College, University of London; published by Martinus Nijhoff. IALS holds it in printed format from 1990 -1998 (incomplete). On HeinOnline 1990 - 2004/05; on EBSCO Academic Search Premier 1999 - 2007 (for Hein and EBSCO, see IALS Electronic Law Library).
- A systematic guide to the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights, edited by Peter Kempees and published by Martinus Nijhoff in several volumes. Consists of extracts from all European Court of Human Rights judgments from 1960 to 1998 (further volumes are planned), arranged by Convention article. Held at IALS.
- Yearbook of the European Convention on Human Rights, mentioned above. Includes summaries of judgments delivered by the Court's Grand Chamber (the most important cases); it outlines relevant legislation and cases from within the member states. IALS has the whole series (1955 - ).
European Social Charter
- Digest of Decisions and Conclusions of the European Committee of Social Rights (2008, on Council of Europe website). Synthesis of case law on each article of the Charter, with a collection of extracts from decisions and conclusions and a detailed index.
- Case-law on the European Social Charter (Council of Europe. Directorate of Human Rights, 1982) and three supplements (1986, 1987 and 1993); not held at IALS.
Most books about the work of the Council of Europe and European human rights law are at classmarks GO1.A.20 and GO1.A.25 in IALS Library, but some may be found at other classmarks (see Catalogue).
Recent works include:
- Glas, Lize R., The theory, potential and practice of procedural dialogue in the European Convention on Human Rights System, Intersentia, 2016.
- Bjørge, Eirik, Domestic application of the ECHR : courts as faithful trustees, Oxford University Press, 2015.
- Rainey, Bernadette, Wicks, Elizabeth Wicks and Ovey, Clare, Jacobs, White and Ovey: the European Convention on Human Rights, 6th ed., Oxford University Press, 2014.
Brems, Eva (ed.), Diversity and European human rights: rewriting judgments of the ECHR. Cambridge University Press, 2013.
Xenos, Dimitris, The positive obligations of the state under the European Convention of Human Rights. Routledge, 2012.
Tschirky, Anja, The Council of Europe's activities in the judicial field: the contribution of Council of Europe bodies to defining and implementing judicial independence and impartiality within judicial systems of Central and Eastern European countries. Schulthess, 2011.
The Yearbook of the European Convention on Human Rights includes a bibliography (held at IALS).
The European Court of Human Rights Library's catalogue indexes journal articles as well as books and can be used as a bibliography.
Older bibliographies include the following, all of which are held at IALS:
- Documentation sources in human rights, Council of Europe, Human Rights Information Centre, 1995. Detailed and wide-ranging bibliography of CoE titles (and a few titles from other publishers), including conference proceedings, reports, information leaflets, cases and resolutions. Covers material relating to the European Convention on Human Rights, European Social Charter and European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; also covers general human rights publications.
- Human rights: an international and comparative law bibliography, compiled and edited by Julian R. Friedman and Marc I. Sherman, Westport, Conn. and London: Greenwood Press, 1985.
- Bibliography of articles published on the conventions concluded in the framework of the Council of Europe. Council of Europe, Legal Affairs dept., 1979.
The following series, all available at IALS, are expressly devoted to the subject of European human rights law:
- European Human Rights Law Review (Sweet & Maxwell, 1996- ). Bimonthly journal containing articles, case commentaries and news. IALS has the whole series, in print and via Westlaw.
- Human Rights Information Bulletin, produced three times a year by the CoE's Directorate-General of Human Rights from 1978 until 2012. Covers not just the European Convention on Human Rights, but also other CoE human rights conventions; includes articles, case summaries and other information. On CoE website 2000-2012 (ceased 2012). IALS has the Bulletin from 1982 to 2007 (incomplete), on the Catalogue under the former title, Human rights: information sheet.
Case Law Information Notes, produced monthly since 1998 by the Registry of the European Court of Human Rights, containing case summaries, facts and figures. Whole series available on ECHR website.
- Yearbook of the European Convention on Human Rights, prepared by the CoE's Directorate General of Human Rights and published by Martinus Nijhoff (1955 - ; in IALS). Includes ratification tables and details of reservations and declarations; summaries of selected cases; lists and statistical analyses of cases; selected recommendations and resolutions of the Assembly; texts adopted by the Committee of Ministers, replies to the recommendations and written questions of the Parliamentary Assembly and other information about the Committee's human rights activities; details of member states' legislation and cases concerning the Convention; a bibliography; and other related information.
Other relevant journals held at IALS include the European Law Review, Hague Journal of the Rule of Law, International and Comparative Law Quarterly, International Journal of Refugee Law, International Journal of Comparative Labour Law and Industrial Relations, Netherlands Quarterly of Human Rights,Yearbook of European Law and the European Journal of Health Law.
For guidance on carrying out a wide-ranging literature search, see Finding Journals and Journal Articles at IALS.
Council of Europe website: provides a vast amount of CoE documentation and detailed information about CoE activities.
Council of Europe Treaty Office website: contains all CoE conventions, with details of signatures, ratifications and declarations, and explanatory reports.
European Court of Human Rights website: includes the Court's constitutional texts, case law (via HUDOC), reports, guides and lists of forthcoming cases.
HUDOC: the case database of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), containing ECHR judgments, European Commission of Human Rights decisions/reports and case documentation from the Committee of Ministers
HUDOC-EXEC: database of documents relating to the execution of ECHR judgments
HUDOC-CPT: database of documents produced by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
HUDOC-ECRI: database of documents from the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance
HUDOC-ESC: database of cases relating to the European Social Charter