EGMR: Grand Chamber hearing on the right of access to court of a pastor concerning his claim for compensation against the Hungarian Calvinist Church

The European Court of Human Rights is holding a Grand Chamber hearing today Wednesday 12 October 2016 at 9.15 a.m. in the case of Károly Nagy v. Hungary (application no. 56665/09). The case concerns a pastor’s compensation claim against the Hungarian Calvinist Church following his dismissal. 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, Károly Nagy, is a Hungarian national who was born in 1951 and lives in Gödöllő (Hungary).

Mr Nagy was pastor of the Hungarian Calvinist Church. In June 2005, disciplinary proceedings were brought against him for being reported in a local newspaper as saying that State subsidies had been paid unlawfully to a Calvinist boarding school, and his service was immediately suspended and eventually terminated with effect from 1 May 2006 following a decision by the ecclesiastical courts.

Mr Nagy then brought proceedings before both the labour and civil courts. Both sets of proceedings were ultimately discontinued on the ground that the case concerned an ecclesiastical matter in which the courts had no jurisdiction. The labour courts discontinued the proceedings in December 2006, on the ground that the dispute concerned Mr Nagy’s service as a pastor and therefore the provisions of Labour Law were not applicable in his case. That decision was upheld on appeal in April 2007. Mr Nagy’s civil-law claim was also ultimately discontinued in May 2009, the Supreme Court concluding that there was no contractual relationship between Mr Nagy and the Calvinist Church and therefore his claim had no basis in civil law.

Mr Nagy complains about the Hungarian courts’ refusal to hear his claim for compensation on the merits, alleging that he had been denied access to a court merely on account of his position as a Calvinist pastor. He relies in particular on Article 6 § 1 (right of access to court) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Procedure

The application was lodged with the European Court of Human Rights on 19 October 2009.

In its Chamber judgment of 1 December 2015, the European Court of Human Rights held, by four votes to three, that there had been no violation of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention. The Chamber noted in particular that, although the Hungarian Supreme Court had held that the State courts had had no jurisdiction to examine Mr Nagy’s claim, it had in fact examined the claim in the light of the relevant domestic legal principles of contract law and found that there was no contractual relationship between Mr Nagy and the Calvinist Church. Mr Nagy could not therefore argue that he had been deprived of the right to a determination of the merits of his claim.

On 2 May 2016 the Grand Chamber Panel accepted Mr Nagy’s request that the case be referred to the Grand Chamber.

ADF International, an NGO, was granted leave to intervene in the written proceedings as third party.

Composition of the Court

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

  • Luis López Guerra (Spain), President,
  • András Sajó (Hungary),
  • Mirjana Lazarova Trajkovska (“the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”),
  • Angelika Nußberger (Germany),
  • Nona Tsotsoria (Georgia),
  • Vincent A. de Gaetano (Malta)
  • Julia Laffranque (Estonia),
  • Paulo Pinto de Albuquerque (Portugal),
  • Linos-Alexandre Sicilianos (Greece),
  • Aleš Pejchal (the Czech Republic),
  • Krzysztof Wojtyczek (Poland),
  • Valeriu Griţco (the Republic of Moldova),
  • Iulia Motoc (Romania),
  • Síofra O’Leary (Ireland),
  • Carlo Ranzoni (Liechtenstein),
  • Marko Bošnjak (Slovenia),
  • Tim Eicke (the United Kingdom), judges,
  • Georges Ravarani (Luxembourg),
  • André Potocki (France),
  • Pere Pastor Vilanova (Andorra), substitute judges,
  • and also Françoise Elens-Passos, Deputy Registrar.

Representatives of the parties

Government

  • Zoltán Tallódi, Agent,
  • Mónika Weller, Co-Agent;

Applicant

  • András Cech, Counsel,
  • Márta Nagy and Balázs Várhalmy, Advisers.

The applicant in this case, Mr Károly Nagy will also attend the hearing.

Press release ECHR 326 (2016) 12/10/2016

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