Ireland v. United Kingdom, E.C.H.R. Ser. A, No. 25 (1978)

Ireland complained of a practice of unlawful treatment of detainees in Northern Ireland, which it said amounted to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment, and the case was held to be admissible on that basis. This had various procedural and remedial consequences. In particular, the exhaustion of local remedies rule did not have to be complied with in relation to each of the incidents cited as part of the practice. Court denied that there was any separate wrongful act of a systematic kind involved. It was simply that Ireland was entitled to complain of a practice made up by a series of breaches of article 7 of the Convention, and to call for its cessation. UK announced before the court its decision to abandon the techniques and asked the court to declare the case moot

A practice incompatible with the Convention consists of an accumulation of identical or analogous breaches which are sufficiently numerous and interconnected to amount not merely to isolated incidents or exceptions but to a pattern or system; a practice does not of itself constitute a violation separate from such breaches ... The concept of practice is of particular importance for the operation of the rule of exhaustion of domestic remedies. This rule, as embodied in article 26 of the Convention, applies to State applications ... in the same way as it does to ‘individual’ applications ... On the other hand and in principle, the rule does not apply where the applicant State complains of a practice as such, with the aim of preventing its continuation or recurrence, but does not ask the Commission or the Court to give a decision on each of the cases put forward as proof or illustrations of that practice The function of the Court is ‘not only to decide those cases brought before, but more generally to elucidate, safeguard and develop the rules instituted by the convention’