Another Romanian church property dispute: Orăştie

Yet another property dispute between the Romanian Greek-Catholic Church and the Romanian Orthodox Church.

In Orăştie Romanian Greek Catholic Archpriesthood United to Rome and Orăştie Romanian Greek Catholic Parish United to Rome v Romania [2017] ECHR 913 [in French], the applicants sought the restitution of their church, which had been expropriated by the Communist regime and handed over to the Orthodox in 1948. They were unsuccessful before the domestic courts [7-17], the High Court of Cassation and Justice noting that 90.71% of the population of Orăştie was Orthodox and 1.02% Greek-Catholic [16].

Relying on Article 6 §1 ECHR taken in conjunction with Article 14, the applicants contended before the Fourth Section ECtHR that the domestic courts should have applied the criterion set out in Article 3 of Legislative Decree No. 126/1990 – which governs the settlement of property disputes between the two Churches – rather than the Civil Code. They also complained about the length of the proceedings [19]. The Government submitted that the length of the proceedings had not been unreasonable, given the particular circumstances of the case [21].

The Court noted that the proceedings began on 29 March 2006 and ended on 24 November 2011, when the High Court of Cassation and Justice delivered its final judgment [24]. The proceedings had been extended from 8 October 2009 to 6 May 2010 in order to obtain expert opinions on the improvements made to the place of worship in dispute. The delay in was therefore not due to erroneous decisions on account of difficulties in establishing the applicable law or the procedure to be followed and the length of the proceedings was reasonable in view of the particular features of the property at issue and the complexity of the case [25]. The complaint as to the length of proceedings was, therefore, manifestly ill-founded [26].

The complaint of the alleged failure to respect the principle of legal certainty was not, however, manifestly ill-founded and was admissible [27]:

“Having regard to the time at which the national courts ruled in the applicants’ case and, in particular, the fact that the last decision of the domestic proceedings was delivered by the High Court of Cassation and Justice, the Court considers that, as in the case of Greek-Catholic Parish of Lupeni & Ors v Romania [2015] ECHR 487, [noted here] the uncertainty in the case-law in which the action brought by the applicants was examined, to which is added the lack of use prompted by the mechanism provided for by domestic law to ensure coherence in practice within the highest court of the country, infringed the principle of legal certainty and, in doing so, had the effect of depriving the persons concerned of a fair trial” [31].

The Court held unanimously that had been a violation of Article 6 §1.

The Court rejected the claim of discriminatory interference with the applicants’ right of access to a court, which, they argued, was based on their membership of a minority cult, in breach of Article 6 §1 taken alone and in conjunction with Article 14 [33-38]. The Court also rejected the applicants’ allegation of a breach of Article 9 [39-47]. In particular:

“… the Court reiterates that the right of a religious community to be guaranteed a place of worship by the public authorities cannot be derived from the Convention. In the present case, the refusal of the domestic courts to recognise the right of ownership of the persons concerned over a church did not prevent the applicants from functioning and did not restrict their right to build a place of worship under the conditions laid down by the law” [44].

The Court likewise dismissed the complaint about interference with the applicants’ property under Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 [59]. The applicants were awarded €3,600 in respect of non-pecuniary damage and €3,253 in respect of costs and expenses.

Cite this article as: Frank Cranmer, "Another Romanian church property dispute: Orăştie" in Law & Religion UK, 18 October 2017,

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