What is an interim measure (or Rule 39 order) of the European Court of Human Rights?
Interim measures are typically requested where a person faces a risk to their life or a risk that they may suffer torture or inhuman or degrading treatment, for example, when they are imprisoned, or if they are sent to another country.
Interim measures only apply for a limited amount of time. They do not decide the outcome of the case: they only seek to prevent irreversible harm while the case is ongoing. Neither the person seeking the interim measure nor the state concerned can appeal the ECtHR’s decision to refuse or issue an interim measure.
An interim measure secured the evacuation of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny to Germany in 2020 after he had been poisoned with a nerve agent. Others were issued in cases lodged by two British prisoners of war who had fought with the Ukrainian armed forces and were seeking to escape a Russian death sentence in Russian-occupied eastern Ukraine.
An interim measure issued in June 2022 prevented the removal of a person to Rwanda as part of the UK-Rwanda asylum transfer agreement. The interim measure said that the person should not be removed until after a final decision had been made by the UK courts, out of concern that the person would not have a fair hearing in Rwanda on their asylum claim.
There is a high bar for applicants to prove that the interim measure is necessary, and requests are often refused by the ECtHR.
Combining figures for 2017-19 and 2020-22, the Court received 597 requests for interim measures in UK cases, of which it granted 14, i.e. it issued urgent orders in response to around 5% of requests, an average of just over two per year. This was the 14th lowest compared to the other 46 Council of Europe states.