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

  • Michał Rynkowski (a1)


The jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) on religious freedom is well known and is the subject of frequent comment. The aim of this paper is to present an overview of a particular aspect, where the ECtHR had to consider a dispute in which a religious court was involved at an earlier stage. In these cases, nolens volens, the ECtHR had to adjudicate upon the competence and procedure of these courts and tribunals. To date, there have only been nine such cases, of which only three have led to a judgment. Yet, from the remaining six which were declared inadmissible or manifestly ill-founded, there is something to be learned about the approach of the ECtHR to religious courts.



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2 Only about forty applications between 1959 and 2011 resulted in a judgment; the rest were declared inadmissible: see <>, accessed 15 June 2015.

3 Tyler v United Kingdom App no 21283/93 (ECtHR, 5 April 1993).

4 This matter pre-dated the system of disciplinary tribunals introduced by the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003.

5 Helle v Finland App no 20772/92 (ECtHR, 19 April 1997).

6 Ahtinen v Finland App no 48907/99 (ECtHR, 23 September 2008).

7 Skordas v Greece App no 48895/99 (ECtHR, 15 June 2000).

8 Pellegrini v Italy App no 30882/96 (ECtHR, 20 July 2001).

9 Šupa v Slovakia App no 72991/01 (ECtHR, 6 February 2007).

10 The time ran from the final determination of the final court of record in Slovakia, notwithstanding that a reference was pending before the Slovakian Constitutional Court.

11 Kohn v Germany App no 47021/99 (ECtHR, 23 March 2000); Eskinazi v Turkey App no 14600/05 (ECtHR, 6 December 2005).

12 X v Denmark App no 7374/76 (ECtHR, 8 March 1976).

13 Williamson v United Kingdom App no 27008/95 (ECtHR, 17 May 1995). Mr Williamson had alleged several violations of his Article 9 rights in addition to asserting that the Priests (Ordination of Women) Measure 1993 was a breach of British constitutional law.

14 See Karlsson v Sweden App no 12356/86 (ECtHR, 8 September 1988), appeal to the government against an administrative decision of a cathedral chapter; Cha'are Shalom Ve Tsedek v France App no 27417/95 (ECtHR, 27 June 2000), religious slaughtering of animals; Duda and Dudova v Czech Republic App no 40224/98 (ECtHR, 30 January 2001), the application of the internal law of the Hussite Church by state courts. In four cases brought against Germany the internal laws of various churches were discussed but not their courts: Schüth v Germany App no 1620/03 (ECtHR, 23 September 2010); Obst v Germany App no 425/03 (ECtHR, 23 September 2010); Baudler v Germany App no 38254/04 and Reuter v Germany App no 39775/04 (ECtHR, 6 December 2011).

1 I am grateful to Professor Mark Hill QC for commenting on this article in draft.



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