Relationship between the European Court of Justice and European Court of Human Rights

The relationship between the European Court of Justice (ECJ) and European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) is an issue in European Union law and human rights law. The ECJ rules on European Union (EU) law while the ECtHR rules on the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which covers the 47 member states of the Council of Europe. Cases cannot be brought in the ECtHR against the European Union, but the Court has ruled that states cannot escape their human rights obligations by saying that they were implementing EU law.

Position of the European Union

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has decided not to be bound by the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights.[clarification needed][1] ECJ gives the European Convention on Human Rights "special significance" as a "guiding principle" in its case law.[2] The European Court of Justice uses a set of general principles of law to guide its decision-making process. One such principle is respect for fundamental rights, seen in Article 6(2) of the Treaty Establishing the European Union (Maastricht Treaty): "The Union shall respect fundamental rights, as guaranteed by the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms signed in Rome on 4 November 1950 and as they result from the constitutional traditions common to the Member States, as general principles of Community law."[3] Within this framework, the European Court of Justice uses all treaties that the Member States of the European Union have signed or participated in as interpretive tools for the content and scope of "fundamental rights", while holding the European Convention on Human Rights as a document with "special significance."[4]

As seen in Article 6(2) of the Maastricht Treaty, quoted above, the European Union is bound to respect fundamental rights principles. This means that the institutions of the European Union must not violate human rights, as defined by European Union law, and also that the Member States of the European Union must not violate European Union human rights principles when they implement Union legislation or act pursuant to Union law.[5] This obligation is in addition to the Member States' pre-existing obligations to follow the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights in everything they do.

In practice, this means that the Court of Justice weaves the Convention principles throughout its reasoning. For example, in the Baumbast case, the Court held that when a child has a right of residence in a Member State according to Union law, this also means that his parent(s) should also have a right of residence due to the principle of respect for family life enshrined in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.[6]