Hester Swift, May 2013
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This guide was created by Hester Swift, Foreign & International Law Librarian at the IALS Library.
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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 institutions include:
- 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 a 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.
Other libraries which hold Council of Europe publications include the British Library and the LSE Library. There is a Human Rights Documentation Depository at the British Institute of International and Comparative Law, the Council of Europe’s only official collection of human rights documentation in the UK.
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 number one in the CoE's European Treaty Series. 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 agreed by the Council of Europe to date. They are officially published in the European Treaty Series (ETS). In 2004 this series was re-named as Council of Europe Treaty Series (CETS), but the numerical sequence continues from the ETS to the CETS.
The European / Council of Europe Treaty Series is held at IALS at FOL GO1.A.20.E.1. The series is also on the CoE's conventions website (although this version is not deemed to be authentic), together with signatures, ratifications, declarations and so on, plus explanatory reports.
IALS also has the CoE's unofficial compilation, European Conventions and Agreements. This multi-volume set so far covers the period 1949 to 1998 and is provided by the CoE as a convenient source for researchers. As well as reproducing the treaties, it covers declarations, reservations and so on.
For signatures and ratifications, the easiest place to look is the CoE conventions website. Other sources of this information include:
- Human rights information bulletin (CoE, Directorate-General of Human Rights): 1997-2012 on CoE website; has ceased publication; IALS has 1982 - 2007 (incomplete), under the former title, Human rights: information sheet.
- European Conventions and Agreements (described above); 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)
- CoE press releases - for very recent signatures and ratifications
The European Convention on Human Rights
The actual title of this treaty 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); see also UKTS 71 and 213 UNTS 221. The protocols to the Convention have also been published in the ETS, UKTS and UNTS. The Convention can also be found in volume I of European conventions and agreements. Another source is the website of the Library of the European Court of Human Rights.
Ratification tables and details of reservations and declarations, for both the Convention and its protocols, are on the Conventions website; They are also in part one of the Yearbook of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Yearbook is prepared by the CoE's Directorate-General of Human Rights and published by Martinus Nijhoff (1955 - ); it is available at IALS.
Consolidated amended versions of the Convention are available on the Council of Europe's website and in textbooks such as Brownlie, Basic Documents on Human Rights (5th edition, 2006; held at IALS).
For a substantial commentary on the Convention, see Theory and practice of the European Convention on Human Rights, edited by Pieter van Dijk et al (Intersentia, c.2006). See also Jacobs, White and Ovey : the European Convention on Human Rights (5th ed., OUP, 2010).
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- ; held at IALS). There is an online version on the website of the Library of the European Court of Human Rights.
Human rights cases
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 (ECHR), the European Commission of Human Rights and the Committee of Ministers. Their decisions are available on the HUDOC database, in various printed sources and on Westlaw and Lexis - see below.
The European Court of Human Rights should not be confused with the Court of Justice of the European Union.
HUDOC is a free database on the website of the European Court of Human Rights. It contains:
- the judgments, decisions and advisory opinions of the European Court of Human Rights, 1959 to date
- the resolutions of the Committee of Ministers, 1959 to date
- all the admissibility decisions of the European Commission of Human Rights from 1986 onwards, and some from1955-85
- 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
The database defaults to searching for the ECHR's Grand Chamber and Chamber judgments only; for other materials, tick the appropriate box.
Official printed sources (all 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; cited as CD;.
- Decisions and Reports,1975-1998; cited as DR.
Resolutions of the CoE's Committee of Ministers in application of the Convention:
- 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 (one volume, with supplements). .
- Yearbook of the European Convention on Human Rights, part 2, arranged by the country concerned (selected resolutions only).
Selected Court and Commission cases appear in European Human Rights Reports (EHRR; Sweet and Maxwell, 1979 - ) and Butterworths Human Rights Cases (BHRC; LexisNexis, 1996 - ). IALS has both series, in printed format and online: EHRR is on Westlaw and BHRC is on Lexis Library (see the IALS Electronic Law Library).
Other official publications
Apart from conventions and human rights decisions, Council of Europe institutions also produce other official documents:
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).
Parliamentary Assembly (formerly Consultative Assembly)
- Texts adopted by the Assembly, 1949 - 2008 (IALS has 1950-2008); electronic-only from 2009 (see below).
- Official report of debates, 1949 - (verbatim records; not in IALS)
- 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 - )
- Official gazette of the Council of Europe. Parliamentary Assembly part-volume, 1999 - 2000 (not in IALS)
Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe
- Documents and texts adopted. Strasbourg, Council of Europe, 1957 - 58 (not in IALS)
- Texts adopted / Adopted texts. Strasbourg, Council of Europe, 1960-98 and 2001 - (IALS 1968-89; recent texts on Congress's website).
- 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).
A substantial amount of CoE documentation can be found on the internet, as follows:
- Parliamentary Assembly - working documents (index only 1949-1991, full text 1992 - ); adopted texts (1949- ; select "Part-session"); verbatim records of proceedings (full text 2000 - ); dossier giving details of reports in preparation.
- Committee of Ministers - adopted texts, documentation from groups and committees, other materials. The adopted texts include recommendations, decisions and resolutions; recommendations and resolutions go back to 1949 on the website and most other types of document go back to about 1996. N.B. recommendations were adopted in the form of resolutions until 1979.
- Congress of Local and Regional Authorities - adopted texts in full, including recommendations (1994 - ) and resolutions (1957 - ), plus the Congress'sStatutory Resolution and Charter.
Several case digests are available, and the Yearbook of the European Convention on Human Rights covers both cases and relevant legislation:
- 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 - ).
Books about the work of the Council of Europe and European human rights law are classed at GO1.A.20 and GO1.A.25 at IALS. Most, but not all, are kept on the third floor (see Catalogue). As well as books from commercial publishers, the collection includes titles published by the CoE itself.
Recent works include:
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.
Buyse, Antoine, and Hamilton, Michael (ed.s), Transitional jurisprudence and the European Convention on Human Rights: justice, politics and rights. Cambridge University Press, 2011.
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.
White, Robin C.A. and Ovey, Clare, Jacobs, White and Ovey: the European Convention on Human Rights, 5th ed., Oxford University Press, 2010.
Bates, Ed, The evolution of the European Convention on Human Rights: from its inception to the creation of a permanent court of human rights. Oxford University Press, 2010.
The Yearbook of the European Convention on Human Rights, mentioned above, includes a bibliography.
The European Court of Human Rights Library's catalogue indexes journal articles as well as books and can therefore be used as a bibliography.
The ECHR Library website also provides a list of theses and diploma dissertations relating to the European Convention on Human Rights, from all over Europe, from the 1960s to 2006.
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. Coverage not restricted to materials relating to the European Convention on Human Rights, but also includes the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and the European Social Charter.
- 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 1997-2012 (has ceased publication); IALS has 1982 - 2007 (incomplete), on the Catalogue under the former title, Human rights: information sheet.
Case law information notes, produced 11 or 12 times a year 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, Netherlands Quarterly of Human Rights, International Journal of Refugee Law, 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 large amount of CoE documentation (see above) and information about CoE activities; the homepage links to the websites of the Committee of Ministers, Parliamentary Assembly, Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, Commissioner for Human Rights, European Court of Human Rights, Conference of INGOs and Secretariat General.
Council of Europe conventions website: contains the entire series of CoE conventions, with details of signatures, ratifications and declarations.
European Court of Human Rights website: provides news and information about the Court, including constitutional texts, case law (via HUDOC), reports and lists of forthcoming cases.
HUDOC: the case database of the European Court of Human Rights (for more information, see above).