EGMR: Forthcoming judgment on Tuesday 3 November 2015 – The Siseşti Greek-Catholic Parish v. Romania (no. 32419/04)

The applicant is the Siseşti Parish of the Eastern-Rite Catholic Church, also known as the Greek-Catholic or Uniate Church. The case concerns an action to recover possession of property which had been confiscated from the Parish when the communist regime was established in 1948.

Prior to 1948 the Greek-Catholic parishes had possessed a range of properties, lands and buildings. The Uniate denomination was dissolved in 1948 and the property of the Greek-Catholic Church was transferred to the State, apart from parish property, which was transferred to the Orthodox Church. The Uniate denomination was officially recognised after the fall of the communist regime in December 1989. As regards the legal situation of the former property of the Uniate parishes, a section of the Legislative Decree laid down that it should be adjudicated by joint commissions of representatives of the clergy of both denominations, and that in reaching their decisions the commissions should take account of “the wishes of the adherents of the communities to whom the properties belong”. In the event of disagreement between the clerical representatives, the party interested in taking legal action could bring proceedings under ordinary domestic law.

Between 1998 and 2002 several unproductive meetings were held by representatives of the Siseşti Parish Eastern-Rite Catholic Church and Orthodox Church representatives. On 24 February 2004 the applicant’s action was initially dismissed under a final judgment of the Supreme Court of Justice on the ground that the commission had not yet assessed the legal situation of the property in issue and that, moreover, part of that property came under special legislation. In April 2005 the applicant parish lodged a fresh claim with the Regional Court to recover possession of the property, over which it claimed rightful ownership. That Court dismissed that claim. The Court of Appeal referred the case back. The Court adjourned its examination of the case from 2 June 2008 to 27 February 2009 on the ground that an objection as regards constitutionality had been transmitted to the Constitutional Court. On 21 September 2011 the Court ordered the restitution of the church and the land at issue. The appeals lodged by both parties were dismissed. By judgment of 21 November 2012 the High Court upheld the decisions given.

Relying on Article 6 § 1 (right to a fair hearing/right of access to a tribunal), Article 9 (right to freedom of religion), Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 (protection of property), separately or in conjunction with Article 13 (right to an effective remedy) and Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination), the applicant parish relies first of all on its right of access to a tribunal and a fair trial. It complains of the legal uncertainty arising from the manner in which the domestic courts adjudicated the claims to recover possession of the places of worship. It also complains of a discriminatory breach of its right to respect for its religion and property. Finally, it complains of the lack of any domestic remedy.

Press release ECHR 337 (2015) 30/10/2015

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