The current incarnation of the European Court of Human Rights was instituted on November 1, 1998, as a means to systematize the hearing of Human Rights complaints from Council of Europe member states. The court's mission is to enforce the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, ratified in 1953. The court replaced the existing enforcement mechanisms, which included the European Commission of Human Rights (created in 1954) and the previous, limited Court of Human Rights, which was created in 1959.
The new court was the result of the ratification of Protocol 11, an amendment to the Convention, which was ratified in October 1997. Judges were subsequently elected by the Council of Europe, and the court was opened approximately one year later.
The court consists of a number of judges equal to the number of Council of Europe member states, which currently stand at forty-four. Despite this correspondence, however, there are no requirements that each state be represented on the court, nor are there limits to the number of judges belonging to any nationality. Judges are assumed to be impartial arbiters, rather than representatives of any nation.
The court is divided into four "Sections", each of which consists of a geographic and gender-balanced selection of justices. The entire court elects a President and four Section Presidents, two of whom also serve as Vice-Presidents of the court. All terms last for three years. Each section selects a Chamber, which consists of the Section President and a rotating selection of six other justices. The court also maintains a 17-member Grand Chamber, which consists of the President, Vice-Presidents, and Section Presidents, in addition to a rotating selection of justices from one of two balanced groups. The selection of judges alternates between the groups every nine-months.
Complaints of violations by member states are filed in Strasbourg, and are assigned to a Section. Each complaint is first heard by a committee of three judges, which may unanimously vote to strike any complaint without further examination. Once past committee, the complaint is heard and decided by a full Chamber. Decisions of great importance may be appealed to the Grand Chamber. Any decisions of the court are binding on the member states.