House arrest, Mass and Article 9: Süveges v Hungary

Background

In Süveges v Hungary [2016] ECHR 22 Mr Süveges was a practising Roman Catholic and teacher of religion. He was arrested on charges of incitement to aggravated murder and unlawful possession of firearms and explosives. He complained of breach of various Articles of the ECHR; but the detail which concerns us here is that during 2012 he was placed under house arrest rather than detained in prison and, during that period, was not allowed to leave the house. During his house arrest he had made various requests for one-off leave, including visits to family members, which were granted. But other requests for more regular visits to his mother and father, both of whom were in poor health, were refused; and in December 2012 the High Court dismissed his application for leave to attend Sunday Mass and that decision was upheld on appeal.

He contended that that the refusal to allow him to visit his parents violated his rights under Article 8 (private and family life). He also argued, under Article 9 (thought, conscience and religion), that the exercise of his religion included a strong community element and the denial of leave once a week to attend Mass was beyond what could be considered proportionate and necessary in a democratic society [149]. The Government did not contest that there had been an interference with his Article 9 rights; but it maintained that the measure was prescribed by law and served the legitimate aim of protecting public order and the rights of others. It was also proportionate, given that the applicant was a teacher of religion and could have exercised his religion without attending church [150]. (Though it is not entirely clear how he could have done this, given that he was under house arrest.)

The judgment

The Fourth Section ECtHR held unanimously that his treatment had breached Article 5 (liberty and security) and Article 6 (fair trial). By six votes to one, however, the Court rejected his contention that his treatment had violated his rights under Articles 8 and 9. The restriction was proportionate, legitimate and within the margin of appreciation. As to his specific complaint under Article 9:

“a restriction on attending religious ceremonies, including Mass, is a direct consequence of the applicant being put in house arrest. Conversely, had the applicant been kept in detention on remand, he would have been in all likelihood able to attend services within the detention facility. The fact that a less stringent coercive measure was applied to him at a certain stage of the proceedings necessarily entailed that he could no longer benefit from organised religious events as would have been the case otherwise” [153: our emphasis].

Which raises the question, what would you prefer: jail and the chance to attend the prison chapel on Sundays, or house arrest without it?

Cite this article as: Frank Cranmer, "House arrest, Mass and Article 9: Süveges v Hungary" in Law & Religion UK, 13 January 2016, https://lawandreligionuk.com/2016/01/13/house-arrest-mass-and-article-9-suveges-v-hungary/

3 thoughts on “House arrest, Mass and Article 9: Süveges v Hungary

  1. Pingback: Law and religion round-up – 17th January | Law & Religion UK

  2. It seems to me that, in view of the very serious nature of the charges, house arrest was an inadequate protection for the public and, given that the availability of religious care and facilities in the Hungarian prison system, the accused should have been detained there.

    If a Muslim citizen had been charged with these offences I suspect that she/he would not have been granted house arrest.

  3. I thought the same. House arrest pending trial on charges of incitement to aggravated murder and unlawful possession of firearms and explosives looked to me to be very strange.

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