The European Court of Human Rights will be delivering a Grand Chamber judgment in the case of Molla Sali v. Greece (application no. 20452/14) at a public hearing on 19 December 2018 at 10 a.m. in the Human Rights Building, Strasbourg. The case concerns the application by the Greek courts of Islamic religious law (Sharia law) to a case relating to an inheritance right vis-à-vis the estate of the deceased husband of Ms Molla Sali, a Greek national belonging to the Muslim minority.
Principal facts and complaints
The applicant, Chatitze Molla Sali, is a Greek national who was born in 1950 and lives in Komotini (Greece).
On the death of her husband, Ms Molla Sali inherited her husband’s whole estate under a will drawn up by her husband before a notary. Subsequently, the deceased’s two sisters challenged the validity of the will, arguing that their brother had belonged to the Thrace Muslim community and that any question relating to inheritance in that community was subject to Islamic law and the jurisdiction of the “mufti” and not to the provisions of the Greek Civil Code.
The sisters relied, in particular, on the 1920 Treaty of Sèvres and the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, which provided for the application of Muslim customs and Islamic religious law to Greek nationals of Muslim faith. The two sisters’ claims were dismissed by the court of first instance and the appellate courts: in September 2011, the Thrace Court of Appeal ruled that the decision of the deceased person, a Greek citizen of Muslim faith and a member of the Thrace religious minority, to call on the services of a notary to draw up an official will, personally designating the persons to whom he wished to bequeath his estate and deciding on the relevant procedure, was in line with his legal right to dispose of his property after his death under the same conditions as all other Greek citizens.
However, the Court of Cassation set that judgment aside, stating that matters of inheritance within the Muslim minority had to be dealt with by the mufti in accordance with the rules of Sharia law. The case was then referred to the court of appeal, which on 15 December 2015 ruled that the law applicable to the deceased’s estate was Muslim religious law and that the impugned will was devoid of legal effect. Ms Molla Sali’s appeal on points of law was dismissed on 6 April 2017.
Relying on Article 6 § 1 (right to a fair trial) read separately and in conjunction with Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination), Ms Molla Sali complains about the application of Sharia law to her inheritance dispute rather than the ordinary law applicable to all Greek citizens, even though her husband’s will was drawn up in accordance with the provisions of the Greek Civil Code. She also submits that she suffered discriminatory treatment on grounds of religion.
Relying on Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 (protection of property), Ms Molla Sali complains that by applying Muslim religious law instead of Greek civil law, the Court of Cassation deprived her of three-quarters of her inheritance.
The application was lodged with the European Court of Human Rights on 5 March 2014. On 6 June 2017 the Chamber relinquished jurisdiction in favour of the Grand Chamber. A hearing was held on 6 December 2017.
The following organisations were given leave to intervene in the written procedure as intervening third parties: Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM), Christian Concern and the Hellenic League for Human Rights.
Press release ECHR 434 (2018) 12/12/2018