Old habits die hard. Ask any human rights lawyer the time bar for ECtHR application from exhaustion of domestic legal remedies, "6 months" they would retort before you hardly finish your question. That is destined to change soon.
With the introduction of the Protocol No. 15 to the European Convention of Human Rights (the "Convention"), the six-month period to lodge an individual application to the European Court of Human Rights (the "Court") was reduced to four months. There has since been considerable hesitation among the legal community on whether it already went into effect, and if not when it will. Before anyone's blood pressure suddenly drops, let us say that as at the date of this article, the amendment is yet to enter into force, awaiting ratification by a handful of remaining Contracting Parties. Your six-month period is intact, at least for now.
Protocol No. 15
The period for bringing an individual application before the Court is provided as an admissibility criterion in Article 35 of the Convention. This provision requires applicants to exhaust all domestic remedies before applying to the Court within six months from the date on which the final decision of the domestic judicial system was served on the applicant. Identifying the relevant time bar is critical because the Court dismisses out-of-time applications as inadmissible without going into the merits.
Aiming at increasing the efficiency of the Court as well as the individual application mechanism, Protocol No. 15 introduced several amendments to the Convention, including an emphasis on the principle of subsidiarity and the Member States' margin of appreciation.1 Article 4 of Protocol No. 15 amended Article 35/1 of the Convention and shaved off two months from the original application period of six months.
Entry into Force
The Protocol's entry into force requires all Contracting Parties' consent. The pool is currently down to four States only. 2 While they have all signed the Protocol, they are yet to ratify it and give the requisite final consent. Once they do so, the Protocol (except Article 4) will enter into force on the first day of the month following the expiration of three months after the last of the remaining four has consented to the Protocol. Article 4 that amends the time bar will have to wait a little longer however. It will enter into force six months after the Protocol itself goes into force.3 That is at least 9 months from the ratification of the last Contracting Party.
What about those applicants whose time was already ticking? The Protocol preserves the rights of those applicants whose six-month application period has already started on the Protocol's date of entry into force. The four-month period will apply only to those applications in respect of which the final decision within the domestic judicial system was taken after Article 4's date of entry into force.4
The six-month period for individual applications to the Court was reduced to four months with Protocol No. 15. The amended application period has not yet entered into force, awaiting all Contracting Parties to ratify the Protocol. The amendment will kick in within approx. nine months from the date on which the last Contracting Party ratifies the Protocol. The amendment will not affect those applications for which the six-month period has already started.
1. Article 1 of the Protocol No. 15, amending the Preamble of the Convention.
2. Bosnia and Herzegovina, Greece, Italy, Spain.
3. Article 8/3 of the Protocol No. 15.
4. Article 8/3 of the Protocol No. 15.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.