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Taking a Case to the European Court of Human Rights


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 7
  • Convenor: Professor Bill Bowring 
  • Assessment: two drafting exercises, up to 1000 words each (20% each) and a 3000-word critical essay (60%)

Module description

In this unique course, you will learn about the theory and practice of human rights litigation, and work on a real case arising from alleged UK violations. The course is run in collaboration with the most authoritative NGO taking UK cases to Strasbourg: the AIRE Centre (Advice on Individual Rights in Europe), with which Professor Bowring has worked for many years.

You will be given the actual Statement of Facts in a live case, usually, but not always, against the UK, at the European Court of Human Rights. This is the formal document prepared by the Court’s registry lawyers on the basis of the application prepared by the applicant, as a key document for the further progress of a case, if it is to be communicated to the respondent state for its formal observations on the application. Since the last reforms, these documents are not confidential, though the application and observations are not published.

You will try your hand at drafting specimen pleadings for the applicant and the government on the facts of this actual case before the European Court of Human Rights. Later in the module you will be given the actual application and government observations in the case.

Experienced practitioners from the AIRE Centre will inform you about their work at the Court. You will also reflect critically on the nature and purpose of litigation at Strasbourg - what is the purpose of taking these cases at all?


  • Introduction to the ECHR and ECtHR - a product of the Cold War, and an irony of history
  • An overview of the Court’s practice and procedure
  • Taking a case to Strasbourg: preparing the application
  • Jurisprudence of the ECtHR relevant to the case study
  • Communication to the government, and further procedure
  • The process of enforcement
  • The crisis of the European system for protection of human rights
  • Critics of human rights theory and practice
  • Why take a case to the court at all? - and presentation of the actual pleadings in the case