A Quantitative Textual Approach of the European Consensus Method of Interpretation in the European Court of Human Rights

How can we provide new methods of European Consensus elaboration in order to answer complex and controversial moral and political questions surrounding human rights law in Europe ?

Project Summary

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has the final say in human rights protection in Europe. The Court has developed a method of interpretation, European consensus (EuC), which it can use to decide on morally, politically or socially sensitive issues. With this method, the Court assesses whether the common practice of European states, international actors, and other authorities leads to the emergence of new human rights standards. EuC allows the ECtHR to build standards in socially sensitive areas such as religious dress and social minorities protection. Despite its importance, there is little clarity on the meaning and function of EuC in legal scholarship.

  • What is the EuC?
  • How does consensus function within the ECtHR system?
  • How to build an appropriate measure in framework for EuC?

We take a pluri-disciplinary approach to define EuC and measure its use in ECtHR case law. By applying computational text analysis techniques often used in quantitative political science, we will construct and validate new measures of EuC. We combine expert human coding of legal texts done by human rights lawyers and computational approaches from social science for textual data. Our new measures will allow the team to determine both the nature and also the level of consensus in each judgment as well as identify the language that indicates consensus analysis in the first place.

Once we have constructed these new measures, we will use them to test important questions in the literature such as whether the ECtHR is more likely to find consensus when human rights standards emerge in one set of countries rather than another, whether certain countries are more likely to disagree with a new emerging consensus as determined by the Court, whose views are reflected in consensus judgments, and finally, how consensus functions within the ECtHR system.

Academic Output

Executive Summary

The European Consensus method is a tool for judicial decision-making employed by the European Court of Human Rights when adjudicating on sensitive moral and social issues. Our project has employed human hand-coding combined with computational techniques to uncover the nature of European Consensus in judgments rendered by the Court. We find that European Consensus is a tool that has become increasingly common over time, is used more when the Court makes decisions in cases involving certain member states – most notably the United Kingdom, but also France – and when making decisions with respect to certain articles of the European Convention of Human Rights – most notably articles 8 (private and family life), 2 (life) 10 (freedom of expression) and 14 (non-discrimination). These findings help shape our understanding of how human rights law has evolved in Europe through the ECHR system.

Research Team

Jonathan B. Slapin
University of Zurich

Denise Traber
University of Basel

Nicole Baerg
Principal Member
University of Essex

Hauke Licht
Principal Member
University of Zurich

Vassilis P Tzevelekos
Principal Member
University of Liverpool

Panos Kapotas
Principal Member
University of Portsmouth

Kushtrim Istrefi
Principal Member
University of Utrecht

Maria Fanou
Principal Member
Queen Mary University

Stephanos Stavros
Associated Member
Council of Europe

Mirjana Lazarova Trajkovska
Associated Member
Supreme Court Macedonia

Christos Rozakis
Associated Member
European Court of Human Rights





Policy domains


Host Institution