Human-rights convention signed in 1950 by all member countries of the Council of Europe. The Convention was the first attempt to give legal content to human rights in an international agreement, and to combine this with the establishment of authorities for supervision and enforcement. It was signed in Rome on 4 November 1950 and came into force on 3 September 1953.
The articles of the Convention cover basic human rights and freedoms, including the right to life, liberty, and a fair trial; the right to marry and have a family; freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; freedom of expression, including freedom of the press; freedom of peaceful assembly and association; the right to have a sentence reviewed by a higher tribunal; and the prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment.
The Convention established a number of supervisory bodies based in Strasbourg, France. These were: a European Commission on Human Rights, responsible for examining applications from states or from individuals; a European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), to which cases were referred by the Commission or by a member state following a report by the Commission; and a Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe which acted as the guardian of the ECHR and to which reference was made, where a case was not brought before the Court, to secure political settlement of a dispute. The growing volume of cases led to the replacement of the supervisory bodies on 1 November 1998 by a single European Court of Human Rights, a reform intended to shorten the length of procedures and enhance the judicial character of the system.
In the UK, the European Convention was incorporated into domestic law under the Human Rights Act 1998, which came into force in October 2000. Britain's record of violations of the Convention was not good, and cases involving illegal telephone tapping, interference with the post, unfair curbs on the press, and unjust restrictions on prisoners' access to lawyers had been brought against it.
The work of the European Commission and Court of Human Rights has had certain important consequences, which have included exposing anomalies in national systems of law, with the result that the relevant national legislation has been improved.
The Convention has been amended through the addition of 11 protocols since 1954.