EGMR: Forthcoming judgment on Tuesday 19 May 2015 – Greek-Catholic Parish of Lupeni and Others v. Romania (no. 76943/11)

The applicants are the Greek-Catholic Parish of Lupeni (Romania), the Greek-Catholic Diocese of Lugoj (Romania) and the Greek-Catholic Archpriesthood of Lupeni. They belong to the Eastern-Rite Catholic (Greek-Catholic or Uniate) Church. The case concerns the restitution of religious sites belonging to the Greek-Catholic Church which were transferred to the Orthodox Church under the totalitarian regime, and more specifically the issue of implementing special legislation to determine the legal status of such property.

After the fall of the Communist regime in 1989 Romanian legislation (Legislative Decree No. 126/1990, hereafter “special legislation”) provided that the legal status of property which had belonged to the Greek-Catholic Church would be determined by joint commissions comprising representatives of both denominations taking account of the “wishes of the adherents of the communities which own these properties”. In the event of disagreement, a party with an interest in bringing proceedings could do so under ordinary law.

The applicant organisations were dissolved in 1948, and in 1967 a church and an adjoining courtyard which had belonged to the Greek-Catholic Parish of Lupeni were transferred to the ownership of the Romanian Orthodox Church. The applicant parish was legally re-established on 12 August 1996. It comes under the Greek-Catholic Diocese of Lugoj (the second applicant) and the Greek-Catholic Archpriesthood of Lupeni (the third applicant). In 2001 the applicants took legal action to obtain restitution of the church and the adjoining courtyard.

In 2009 the County Court granted the applicants’ legal action, but it was subsequently dismissed by the Court of Appeal in 2010. By final judgment of 15 June 2011, the Supreme Court upheld the judgment delivered by the Court of Appeal on the grounds that the latter had rightly applied the criterion of the wishes of the (mostly Orthodox) congregation which owned the building, simultaneously highlighting the anomalies in the reasoning of the first-instance court, which had merely compared the title deeds without reference to the special legislation.

Complaining of the refusal by the Romanian courts to adjudicate on what they consider to be their ownership rights over a religious building under ordinary law, the applicants complain in particular of the infringement of their right of access to a tribunal and of the principle of legal certainty as protected by Article 6 § 1 (right to a fair trial within a reasonable time). Under the same Article, they also complain of the length of the restitution procedure for the church in question. They further complain of the infringement of the right of respect for their property as protected by Article 1 (protection of property) of Protocol No. 1 and their freedom of religion (Article 9), as well as a violation of the prohibition of discrimination (Article 14).

Press release ECHR 155 (2015) 13/05/2015

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