What’s the difference between the European Convention on Human Rights, the European Court of Human Rights and the European Court of Justice?

The European Convention on Human Rights and its European Court of Human Rights are part of a completely different legal system to the EU. The ECHR and ECtHR are both part of the Council of Europe which has 47 member states including Russia and the UK.

The European Union (EU) consists of 28 Member States, including the UK. The Court of Justice of the European Union, sometimes referred to as the European Court of Justice, is the body responsible for overseeing compliance with EU law in the EU.

The EU was set up first and foremost to make it easier to sell goods, to work and to conduct other forms of business between the participating countries. Whilst human rights protections were not originally part of this system, over the years, these have developed, first as ‘general principles’, inspired by the human rights protections in place in the different countries and the human rights organisation they are all part of – the ECHR. EU law now contains a number of citizenship rights and human rights derived from different sources. These include these general principles of EU law, the EU Treaties, and the EU’s own Charter of Fundamental Rights. In this way, the EU institutions do have to comply with human rights protections when they take action.

The EU and Council of Europe systems are intertwined because the ECHR lies behind many of the general principles of EU law and its provisions have been used as a basis for the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights because the EU as a legal order is required to join up to the ECHR Council of Europe as a new member (in the same way that Russia and the UK are members).

Find out more – read our explainer on the institutional set up of the EU and analysis by Professor Dimitrios Giannoulopoulos on the position of Human Rights in the Brexit debate.

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