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European Observer on fundamental right's respect

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Case Law 19516/06 (21/02/2008)

Type: Judgment

Authority: European Authorities: European Court of human rights

Date: 02/21/2008

Subject: The Court held unanimously that there had beena violation of Article 9 (freedom of thought, conscience and religion) of the European Convention on Human Rights; and,a violation of Article 13 (right to an effective remedy) of the Convention. Relying on Article 9 and Article 13, the applicant alleged that he had been obliged to reveal his religious beliefs when taking the oath of office. Article 9 The Court noted that the parties’ submissions diverged as to certain factual elements. It pointed out that the Greek Government had submitted two versions that were inconsistent with each other, and added that none of the documents showed that the applicant had not followed the standard procedure for taking the oath. Indeed, the record of the hearing before the Athens Court of First Instance of 2 November 2005, which was the only official document that had been drawn up following the proceedings in question, corroborated the applicant’s version of events. The Court observed, further, that the freedom to manifest one’s beliefs also contained a negative aspect, namely, the individual’s right not to be obliged to manifest his or her religion or religious beliefs and not to be obliged to act in such a way as to enable conclusions to be drawn regarding whether he or she held – or did not hold – such beliefs. In the present case the Court considered that when Mr Alexandridis went before the court he was obliged to declare that he was not an Orthodox Christian and, consequently, to reveal in part his religious beliefs in order to make a solemn declaration. The Court observed that this procedure reflected the existence of a presumption that lawyers going before the court were Orthodox Christians. The record of the hearing, which was the only official document certifying that the oath had been taken, did indeed present the applicant as having sworn a religious oath, contrary to his beliefs. In that connection the Court also noted that, under Greek law, the oath that any civil servant was invited to take was in principle the religious oath (first paragraph of Article 19 of the Civil Service Code). In order to be allowed to make a solemn declaration, the applicant was obliged to state that he was an atheist or that his religion did not allow him to take the oath. Regarding the existence of two different forms, the Court noted that the copies produced by the Greek Government in support of their submissions dated from 2007. Consequently, the Court could not conclude that the two forms existed at the relevant time. In any event, even supposing that there had been two different forms the Court considered that the applicant could not be blamed for failing to obtain the correct one. The president and registry of the court should have informed him that there was a specific form for solemn declarations. The Court held that the fact that the applicant had had to reveal to the court that he was not an Orthodox Christian had interfered with his freedom not to have to manifest his religious beliefs. There had therefore been a violation of Article 9. Article 13 The Court considered that the Greek Government had failed to show the existence of any effective remedy by which the applicant could have sought redress for the violation of his freedom of religion. Accordingly, there had been a violation of Article 13.

Parties: Alexandridis c/ Grecia

Classification: Freedoms - Art. 10 Freedom of thought - Freedom of conscience - Freedom of religion - Justice - Art. 47 Justice: remedy