ECHR : presentation

Justice and Legal Co-operation Department

ECHR Training for professionals

The work on capacity building, awareness raising and training focuses primarily on the European Convention on Human Rights. The training is aimed at those groups that have a direct role in applying or invoking the Convention in the national judicial systems in member States, that is judges, prosecutors and lawyers. Some of the programmes take the form of traditional in-service training through seminars, round tables and workshops. This offers either an introduction to the Convention system as a whole and its application within national judicial systems, or it may concentrate on examining certain themes in-depth, for example the right to a fair trial, the requirements as regards lawful detention and review of detention, the right to peaceful enjoyment of property, etc. All the training is interactive and based on adult learning techniques. It combines straight-forward lecturing with tailor-made case studies, following which the actual case used as an example is discussed in depth. The cases analysed are chosen in light of the interests of the trainees and the particular issues being raised in the applications from that country before the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).

The trainees are provided with publications and case extracts or full texts of judgments, in the relevant language. They are also given access to on-line materials such as HUDOC and the HELP training tools (see below). All these materials are available to any individual who wishes to improve his or her knowledge of the Convention, not just those taking in part in organised training.

Whenever possible, training-of-trainers programmes are organised. The aim is to create a sustainable resource for providing training on the ECHR at the national level, without being dependent upon CoE expertise. Such larger-scale programmes are mainly undertaken under externally funded multi-annual projects. Training-of-trainers is a good way of developing local ownership and of fostering a culture of ECHR training within the legal professions.

In addition, wider capacity-building is provided to national training institutions and they are encouraged to use systematically the training tools and other materials available free of charge on the HELP website.

The European Programme for Human Rights Education for Legal Professionals (the HELP II Programme) has developed a wide range of substantive and methodological resources for ECHR training, including a full curriculum on the ECHR substantive rights and cross-cutting themes, case studies, lecture notes, presentation slides and E-learning cases based on grand chamber cases. They are available in English, French, German, Russian and Serbian on the HELP website ( The particular added value of the HELP website and its products is that it can be used by any judge, prosecutor or lawyer wishing to learn about the ECHR, as well as by training institutions. The HELP tools are incorporated into all the training activities organised by the CoE.

The training on the ECHR should be seen both as an immediate contribution to improving the level of skills and knowledge among legal professionals, and as a longer-term investment towards reducing the number of cases being brought before the ECtHR. The more familiar judges, prosecutors and lawyers are with the Convention, the more likely they are to apply or invoke it correctly in the national courts. As a result, human rights issues can be solved directly at the domestic level rather than having to be raised in an application to the Court in Strasbourg.

This is the essence of the so-called principle of subsidiarity and was confirmed most recently in the 2010 Interlaken Declaration. The Interlaken Declaration reaffirmed “the fundamental role which national authorities must play in guaranteeing and protecting human rights at the national level” and called on the member states to continue increasing the awareness of the ECHR standards.

The training on the Convention is designed to meet the needs of the beneficiaries, as assessed by CoE judicial and monitoring bodies such as the ECtHR and the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT). These bodies confirm that there continue to be shortcomings as regards the capacity of legal professionals to apply European human rights standards.

In most cases, training and capacity building activities are organised at the request of the national authorities and partner institutions themselves. The typical partners for the training are supreme and lower instance courts, high councils of justice, prosecutors general offices, training schools, bar associations and human rights NGOs.

The impact of the activities depends on the full political commitment of the beneficiary countries to encourage the trainees for actual application of their knowledge and skills. It also depends on internal structural and bureaucratic problems, as well as on subjective factors as regards individual perceptions by the trainees. It should be noted that (sometimes radical) changes of legal practices require changes in mentality which can only be achieved over a period of several years of sustained assistance.

The question of national sustainability depends equally on political will to continue implementing the changes proposed, and the stability and commitment within the partner institutions. In addition, the availability of financial means by the CoE to consolidate the achieved results is crucial. In addition to the funding by the European Union (EU) which constitutes the major part of funding, the CoE Ordinary Budget and voluntary contributions from CoE member states are used to finance the activities.