EGMR: Grand Chamber hearing concerning refusal to register an Orthodox clergy trade union in Romania

The European Court of Human Rights is holding a Grand Chamber hearing today Wednesday 7 November 2012 at 9.15 a.m. in the case of Sindicatul Păstorul cel Bun v. Romania (application no. 2330/09). The case concerns a union set up by members of the clergy and lay members of the Orthodox Church, and the refusal to register it as a trade union. The hearing will be broadcast from 2.30 p.m. on the Court’s Internet site (www.echr.coe.int). After the hearing the Court will begin its deliberations, which will be held in private. Its ruling in the case will, however, be made at a later stage.

The applicant union, Păstorul cel Bun, was established on 4 April 2008 by 35 clerics and lay members of the Romanian Orthodox Church, the majority of them Orthodox priests in parishes of the Metropolis of Oltenia (a region in south-western Romania). The aim of the union, as set forth in its statutes, is to defend the professional, economic, social and cultural interests of its members, both clerics and lay members, in their dealings with the Church hierarchy and the Ministry of Cultural and Religious Affairs. The union made an application to the District Court to be granted legal personality and to be entered in the official register of trade unions. The representative of the Archdiocese objected to the application, arguing that the internal regulations of the Orthodox Church prohibited the creation of any kind of association without the prior consent of the Archbishop. The public prosecutor supported the application, arguing that the establishment of the union was compatible with the law and that the Church’s internal regulations could not prohibit it, as the priests and lay persons concerned were all employed by the Church and as such were entitled to form an association to defend their rights.

In a judgment of 22 May 2008 the Court ordered the entry of Păstorul cel Bun in the register of trade unions, thereby granting it legal personality. The Court found that, since the members of the union carried out their duties on the basis of an employment contract, their right to organise could not be made subject to the prior consent of their employer, in the absence of compelling reasons relating to public safety or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

The Archdiocese appealed against this judgment, submitting that the constitutional principles of freedom of religion and the autonomy of religious communities could not be made subordinate to freedom of association. In a judgment of 11 July 2008 the County Court set aside the first-instance judgment and rejected the application for Păstorul cel Bun to be granted legal personality and to be entered in the trade unions register. It noted that no reference to trade unions was contained in the Statute of the Orthodox Church, according to which the establishment and management of religious associations had to receive the blessing of the Church Synod. If a union were to be set up, the Church hierarchy would be obliged to work together with a new body which operated outside the rules and traditions of canon law governing decision-making.

Relying on Article 11 (freedom of assembly and association) of the European Convention on Human Rights, the union complains about the refusal to register it as a trade union.

Procedure

The application was lodged with the European Court of Human Rights on 30 December 2008. In its judgment of 31 January 2012, the Court held, by five votes to two, that there had been a violation of Article 11 of the Convention. On 9 July 2012 the panel of the Grand Chamber accepted the Romanian government’s request that the case be referred to the Grand Chamber.

Composition of the Court

The case will be heard by a Grand Chamber, composed as follows:

Dean Spielmann (Luxembourg), President,
Guido Raimondi (Italy),
Mark Villiger (Liechtenstein),
Isabelle Berro-Lefèvre (Monaco),
Boštjan M. Zupančič (Slovenia),
Elisabeth Steiner (Austria),
Danutė Jočienė (Lithuania),
Dragoljub Popović (Serbia),
George Nicolaou (Cyprus),
Luis López Guerra (Spain),
Ledi Bianku (Albania),
Vincent A. de Gaetano (Malta),
Angelika Nußberger (Germany),
Linos-Alexandre Sicilianos (Greece),
Erik Møse (Norway),
Helena Jäderblom (Sweden),
Krzysztof Wojtyczek (Poland), judges,

Aleš Pejchal (the Czech Republic),
Päivi Hirvelä (Finland),
Alvina Gyulumyan (Armenia), substitute judges,

and also Michael O’Boyle, Deputy Registrar.

Representatives of the parties

Government

Catrinel Brumar, Agent,

Irina Cambrea,
Dragos Dumitrache, Co-Agents,

Alexandra Neagu, Adviser.

Applicant

Radu Chiriţă,
Ionel Gruia, Counsels,

Oana Chiriţă, Adviser.

Press release ECHR 409 (2012) 07/11/2012

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