Guide last updated by Hester Swift, May 2022
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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 46 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 (more).
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:
From 1954 until 1998 there was also a CoE 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 selected 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 documentation include the British Library and the LSE Library.
The Council of Europe was founded in 1949 by the Statute of the Council of Europe. The Statute is available on the CoE website, together with details of signatures, ratifications, declarations, 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 by IALS Library.
More than 220 conventions and protocols have been adopted under the auspices of the Council of Europe. They are published in the official Council of Europe Treaty Series, abbreviation 'CETS'. The series changed its name from European Treaty Series (ETS) to Council of Europe Treaty Series in 2004, but treaties continued to be numbered in a single sequence, from ETS 193 to CETS 194. The entire ETS/CETS is held at IALS (classmark FOL GO1.A.20.E.1); it is also on the CoE website, although only the print version is deemed to be authentic (see disclaimer).
IALS also holds the CoE's unofficial historical treaty compilation, European Conventions and Agreements. This seven-volume set, intended to be a convenient source for researchers, covers the period 1949 to 1998 and contains details of treaty actions as well as the treaties themselves.
Council of Europe treaties appear in the United Kingdom Treaty Series (UKTS) and the United Nations Treaty Series (UNTS) as well as the ETS/CETS, both of which are held at IALS. The UKTS and UNTS are also online, in UK Treaties Online and the UN Treaty Collection, and the UNTS is on the subscription database HeinOnline as well.
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 opened for signature in 1950 and came into force in 1953; numerous protocols have amended it over the years.
The ECHR is number 5 in the European Treaty Series (ETS 5); it is available on the CoE website in the original version and as amended. The original version was also published at UKTS 71 and 213 UNTS 221. The protocols to the ECHR are also in the ETS/CETS, UKTS and UNTS.
For a substantial commentary on the convention, see Theory and Practice of the European Convention on Human Rights, ed. Pieter van Dijk et al (5th ed., Intersentia, 2018); see also Bernadette Rainey, Elizabeth Wicks and Clare Ovey, Jacobs, White and Ovey: the European Convention on Human Rights (8th ed., OUP, 2021).
The travaux préparatoires (preparatory documents) for the convention have been published in eight volumes, as Collected Edition of the "Travaux Préparatoires" of the European Convention on Human Rights (Martinus Nijhoff, 1975-1985). This publication is held at IALS. There is a free online version, in the form of scanned copies of the original working documents, organised by article number, on the website of the Library of the European Court of Human Rights.
CoE treaty actions
Signatures, ratifications and other treaty actions relating to Council of Europe treaties are detailed in the charts accompanying each treaty on the Council of Europe website; check the Recent Changes page as well.
Other sources of information about treaty actions include:
Human Rights Information Bulletin. CoE, Directorate-General of Human Rights, 1978-2012 (title varies): 2000-2012 on CoE website; ceased publication in 2012; held at IALS Library 1982 - 2007 (incomplete) under its former title, Human Rights: Information Sheet.
Three Council of Europe institutions are, or have been, involved in deciding European Convention on Human Rights cases:
Council of Europe human rights cases are available on HUDOC and Lexis®Library, and selected cases are on Westlaw UK (those published in the European Human Rights Reports); they also appear in printed law reports (see below for details).
HUDOC is the European Court of Human Rights' own case database, containing*:-
Tip: HUDOC defaults to searching for judgments of the Court; to find other types of case, tick the appropriate box.
*HUDOC User Manual (2017), Annex 1, p. 16/37.
The HUDOC-EXEC database 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; memoranda; resolutions. The same documents are also on the website of the Court's Department for the Execution of Judgments, together with annual reports, factsheets and other information .
Official printed sources of human rights cases
European Court of Human Rights:
Lists of judgments by date and subject appear in part two of the Yearbook of the European Convention on Human Rights (held at IALS), together with statistical analyses of the year's cases.
European Commission of Human Rights:
Committee of Ministers
Selected Court and Commission cases appear in European Human Rights Reports (EHRR; on Westlaw UK - see Law Databases page) and Butterworths Human Rights Cases (BHRC; on Lexis®Library - see Law Databases page). Lexis also has a larger (but not comprehensive) collection, called European Human Rights Cases.
IALS holds the whole EHRR series (1979 onwards) in hard copy, and BHRC in hard copy from 1996 to 2010 only.
Research guide and analytical information
The Court has produced a detailed guide to tracking down ECHR cases: European Court of Human Rights: Finding and understanding the case-law (2021).
The Court's website has a Case Law Analysis section 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.
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 Committee's decisions and conclusions are available in the CoE's HUDOC-ESC database. They also appear in the annual publication European Social Charter: conclusions (title varies; Council of Europe, Directorate of Human Rights, 1970 - c.2012; not held at IALS).
The Appendix to the CoE's Digest of Decisions and Conclusions of the European Committee of Social Rights (2018) includes extracts from selected decisions and conclusions.
Further information about the European Social Charter and its implementation may be found on the CoE website.
The Council of Europe's 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).
Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe (formerly Conference of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe)
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).
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.
Government responses to ECRI reports: may be published as appendices to country reports; also on HUDOC-ECRI, under 'Government observations'
European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission)
Documents issued by the Venice Commission include opinions, studies, reports, codes of practice and checklists.
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.
Parliamentary Assembly (formerly Consultative Assembly)
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. This title is held at IALS Library.
European Social Charter
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, and a few are held only as e-books (see Catalogue).
Recent works include:
Gerards, Janneke H., General principles of the European Convention on Human Rights. Cambridge University Press, 2019.
Pieter van Dijk et al (ed.s), Theory and practice of the European Convention on Human Rights. 6th ed., Intersentia, 2018
Mačkić, Jasmina, Proving discriminatory violence at the European Court of Human Rights, Brill, 2018
Stefanie Schmahl and Marten Breuer (ed.s), The Council of Europe: its laws and policies, Oxford University Press, 2017
The Yearbook of the European Convention on Human Rights, held at IALS, includes a bibliography.
The European Court of Human Rights Library's Catalogue can be used as a bibliography; it indexes journal articles as well as books and other material.
Older bibliographies include the following, all held at IALS:
Relevant series include the following, all available from IALS Library:
Other relevant serials held at IALS include the 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: CoE documentation and detailed information about CoE activities.
Council of Europe Treaty Office website: all CoE conventions with details of signatures, ratifications and declarations, and explanatory reports.
European Court of Human Rights website: has the Court's constitutional texts, cases (HUDOC), reports, guides and lists of forthcoming cases.
HUDOC: database of ECHR judgments, European Commission of Human Rights decisions/reports and Committee of Ministers case documentation.
HUDOC-EXEC: documents relating to the execution of ECHR judgments
HUDOC-CPT: documents from by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
HUDOC-ECRI: documents from the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance
HUDOC-ESC: cases relating to the European Social Charter