Although committees deal in particular with reports, they have great freedom to discuss any matter within their competence when they agree to do so. They organise hearings, colloquies or conferences on particular subjects, the findings of which can then be used for the preparation of reports to the Assembly.
The sessions of the Parliamentary Assembly are divided into four part-sessions, each lasting for about a week at the end of January, April, June and the beginning of October.
Seats allocated to members in the Chamber are arranged in the shape of a horseshoe and allocated in alphabetical order. Consequently members do not sit in national delegations or in political groups.
According to the Statute, the official languages of the Council of Europe are English and French. However, the Assembly provides interpretation in German, Italian and Russian as additional working languages.
The Table Office advises members of the Assembly, secretaries of delegations, of political groups and other officials on how best to achieve their objectives within the Rules of Procedure and serves as custodian of these rules.
The Assembly's plenary debates are held in public while committees meet generally in camera. The debates are conducted according to the principles observed in national parliaments.
Only members duly designated by the national delegation and who have signed the register of attendance for the specific sitting shall be entitled to vote. The Assembly normally votes by using the electronic voting system.
A two-thirds majority is required for questions such as a draft recommendation or draft opinion to the Committee of Ministers or the adoption of urgent procedure. In respect of a draft resolution and any other decision, a majority of the votes cast is required.
Whilst it is normal that the Assembly elects its President and Vice-Presidents, it also carries out a series of other elections, a characteristic that reinforces its role as parliamentary organ of the Council of Europe.
The Assembly elects the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, the Deputy Secretary General as well as the Secretary General of the Assembly. All three are elected by secret ballot for a period of 5 years.
The Assembly also elects members of the European Court of Human Rights. Members of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment are elected by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe from a list of three names drawn up by the Bureau of the Assembly.
The Assembly also elects the Commissioner for Human Rights.