The ‘European Court of Human Rights’ and ‘European Court of Justice’
The term ‘the European Court’ is often used in the media but actually refers to two totally separate institutions. The two courts are quite different and should not be confused.
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), contrary to popular belief, is not an EU institution. The ECHR actually sits in judgement on cases that relate to the European Convention on Human Rights, which was drafted by a body called the Council of Europe, set up after the Second World War. Britain is one of 47 member states of the Council of Europe (there are 27 member states of the EU) and has implemented the rights granted by the Convention in UK law under the UK Human Rights Act.
As the European Convention on Human Rights is implemented in UK law rather than via EU law, cases relating to human rights can only be pursued through the UK legal system. You should therefore seek professional legal advice about cases where you believe you have a case under the Convention. The ECHR acts as a final appeals court for human rights cases in situations where all possible avenues available under the UK legal system have been exhausted. Anyone who has already exhausted all legal avenues in the UK can submit a case for consideration by the ECHR without the need for a solicitor, though you may wish to take legal advice on admissibility. The ECHR has an excellent website via which cases can be submitted, at http://www.echr.coe.int/echr/homepage_EN
The European Court of Justice (ECoJ) is an EU institution. It exists to ensure that EU law is being applied equally and consistently across the EU by member states and EU bodies. The ECoJ does not sit in judgement on individual cases but rather acts where it is judged that a member state or EU body is persistently failing to apply EU law appropriately. Anybody can submit a complaint about non-compliance to the ECoJ, however.
As EU laws are implemented via the national laws of each EU country, individual cases relating to the misapplication of EU law in the UK have to be pursued via the UK legal system.