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European Protection of Human Rights


Admission requirements

Admission to the Masters programme (European Law specialisation).


The main purpose of this course is to provide an overview of the various European systems that have been developed to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms. What are human rights, what is their scope, how are they balanced against public policy aims, by which means are they protected? Do we have common standards throughout Europe? In seeking an answer to these questions – and many others – we will focus on the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). In addition we will also pay attention to the role of the European Union (EU) in the protection of human rights and its relationship with the ECHR, and we will examine the degree to which an integrated system of human rights protection is emerging in Europe.

It is impossible to discuss all the details of the vast amount of ECtHR case law. We have therefore selected a few ‘hot topics’ and some of the most important cases that have come before the Strasbourg Court. These leading cases will illustrate how this Court approaches human rights, what main principles and doctrines have been developed in its case-law, and what their impact on the legal order of the states can be. At the same time, the discussion of the cases will make you familiar with the procedure followed under the Convention.

As the course progresses we will in some cases trace fundamental rights protection in the EU legal system, with a view to examining the position that the Convention has assumed in the EU as well as trends of divergence and convergence in the levels of protection provided. We will also discuss the process of accession of the EU to the ECHR and the implications (both institutional and substantive) that may result from this for both legal orders.

There are at least three specific reasons to address human rights in the context of the Master in European Law. Firstly, the significance of human rights – both for the legitimacy of public authority and for the day-to-day functioning of the legal order – has only increased since World War II. Secondly, the case-law of the Court in Strasbourg adds considerably to the process of European integration. Common standards are identified and reinforced, even if the Court is often prepared to take into account national values and traditions. Thirdly, the EU itself is paying ever more attention to fundamental rights and the protection of the rule of law and its Member States; the Treaty of Lisbon prescribes the EU’s accession to the ECHR. In addition, the course fits in with other elements within the Masters programme, such as EU Institutional law and General Principles of EU Law.

Course objectives

Objectives of the course
The course “European Protection of Human Rights” has three objectives: (1) to explore the background and contents of the European Convention on Human Rights; (2) to provide an overview of the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights and the procedure before this Court, and (3) to track the way in which the ECHR contributes to the process of European integration, thereby paying special attention to its relationship with the EU legal order.

Achievement levels
At the end of this course, students will be able to explain the nature and contents of the ECHR and the procedure before the ECtHR. In addition, they will be able to describe a number of leading cases decided by the Strasbourg Court, as well as general principles of its case-law, and some key rulings on fundamental rights by the Court of Justice of the EU. Further, they will be able to solve a fictional case on the basis of ECtHR case law. They will also have insights into the relationship between the ECHR and the EU legal order.

In concreto this means that at the end of this course, and on the basis of the assigned materials, students can:

  • explain the procedure before the ECtHR and the most important characteristics of its case-law;

  • make reasoned suggestions for amendment of the procedure before the ECtHR; describe the position of the EU vis-à-vis the ECHR; and critically reflect on these matters;

  • solve a fictional case related to a topic concerning European human rights;

  • answer essay questions reflecting on (elements of) the ECtHR case law, while showing critical thinking;

  • write a case note to a recent ECtHR judgment or decision or a case pending before the ECtHR.


The timetable of this course can be found in uSis.

Mode of instruction


  • Number of (2 hour) lectures: 10

  • Names of lecturers: prof. dr. R.A. Lawson

  • Required preparation by students: reading of case-law and literature as indicated in the syllabus.

The course will extend over five weeks, generally speaking with two sessions per week. The first lectures will be of an introductory character. Each of the remaining sessions will address individual rights protected by the ECHR or themes in the ECtHR case-law (e.g. the ECHR and migration or the territorial scope of the ECHR). All sessions will be interactive. Students may be asked to prepare (in groups) assignments for these sessions, such as to formulate a judgment for a pending case or present a case of the ECtHR or the CJEU to their fellow-students.

Assessment method

Examination form(s)

  • Written exam (80 % of the overall mark)

  • Written assignment (20 % of the overall mark)

  • Both partial grades are taken together in order to establish the overall grade. A fail for one part of the exam may be compensated by a pass for the other part; what is decisive is that the overall grade qualifies as a pass.

  • Students who fail the written exam are entitled to a re-sit examination. Depending on the number of students failing the exam, the re-sit may take the form of a written or oral exam.

  • If a student has not passed the course by the end of the academic year, partial grades for written exam or written assignment are no longer valid.

Submission procedures
For all practical information see the syllabus and the Brightspace environment.

Areas to be tested within the exam
The examination syllabus consists of the required reading materials (case-law and literature) for the course, the course information guide and the subjects taught in class, as well as all other instructions, which are part of the course.

Regulation retake passed exams
In this course it is possible to retake an exam that has been passed (cf. art. and further of the Course and Examination Regulations), on the condition that this course is included in the compulsory components of the degree program. Students who have passed the exam may retake the final written assessment (test) of the course if they meet certain requirements. To retake a passed exam, students need to ask the Student Administration Office (OIC) for permission. For more information, go to 'course and exam enrollment' > 'permission for retaking a passed exam' on the student website.

Reading list

Obligatory course materials


  • We do not use a single textbook for this course. Instead, the course is built on case-law, which can be retrieved from the websites of the relevant courts. Some references to academic writings have been included by way of background information.

  • A short syllabus for this course will be posted on Brightspace two weeks before the start of the course. This syllabus will indicate all reading materials, as well as a short guide where to find these materials on the Internet. Students are expected to retrieve, download and/or print the materials themselves.

Course information guide:

  • The syllabus will contain all practical information, and will be posted on the Brightspace environment.

Recommended background reading
Students who wish to consult a comprehensive textbook by way of background reading, are referred to:

  • Jacobs, White & Ovey: The European Convention on Human Rights (8th ed., Oxford University Press 2020)

  • D.J. Harris, M. O’Boyle & C. Warbrick, Law of the European Convention on Human Rights (4th ed., Oxford University Press 2018)

  • For more references see the extensive reading list in the syllabus


Students have to register for the lectures and working groups through uSis. With this registration you have access to the digital learning environment of this course in Brightspace. You may register up to 5 calendar days before the first teaching session begins.

Students have to register for exams and retakes through uSis. With this registration you also have access to the digital learning environment of this course in Brightspace You may register up to 10 calendar days before the exam or retake.

Contact information

  • Coordinator: prof. dr. R.A. Lawson

  • Work address: KOG, Steenschuur 25

  • Contact information: Room B1.23

  • Telephone number: +31 (0)71 527 3596 (secretariat)

  • E-mail:


  • Institute: Public Law

  • Division: European Law

  • Room number secretariat: KOG, B1.11

  • Opening hours: 9:00-17:00

  • Telephone number secretariat: +31 (0)71 527 3596

  • E-mail: