Religious Courts in the Jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights

In: Brill Research Perspectives in Law and Religion

Abstract

Religious courts have for centuries been part of the European legal landscape. Almost all churches and religious communities have their own judicial systems, often composed of courts or tribunals ordered hierarchically. The aim of this paper is to present cases from the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights, in which a religious court was involved at the stage of domestic proceedings. The twelve cases in question originate from a number of European States, from Italy to Finland and from the UK to Turkey—and in one particular case, Israel. The applicants belonged to many denominations, predominantly Christian. The Court of Human Rights (and before that, the Commission of Human Rights) has been concerned, in the main, with religious courts in terms of compliance with the requirement for a fair hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal under Article 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights. The Court has come to various conclusions—for example, it accepted that courts of the Church of England comply with the requirement, it questioned whether the cathedral chapter of the Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Finland did so, and it indirectly criticized proceedings before the Roman Rota of the Catholic Church. The most recent judgment from September 2017, Nagy v. Hungary, and in particular many associated dissenting opinions, demonstrate that the matter is worthy of study, particularly in the contemporary context of religious freedom. Nevertheless, the cases are so different that it is difficult to discern a coherent line of jurisprudence, and the Court itself hardly ever refers to its own previous judgments in this field.

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