Capacities to be Enjoyed by Non-Governmental Organizations

Canea Catholic Church v Greece, 16 December 1997 [ECtHR]

Case no 25528/94

41.  In holding that the applicant church had no capacity to take legal proceedings, the Court of Cassation did not only penalise the failure to comply with a simple formality necessary for the protection of public order, as the Government maintained. It also imposed a real restriction on the applicant church preventing it on this particular occasion and for the future from having any dispute relating to its property rights determined by the courts; in this connection, the Court notes that on 31 May 1995 the Crete Court of Appeal, relying on the Court of Cassation’s judgment, dismissed two actions brought by the applicant church against the lessees of a business it owned, on the ground that it did not have legal personality (see paragraph 21 above). 

42.  Such a limitation impairs the very substance of the applicant church’s “right to a court” and therefore constitutes a breach of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention.


44.  The applicant church maintained that it was the victim of discrimination incompatible with that provision, since the removal of its right to bring or defend legal proceedings was based exclusively on the criterion of religion. (...)

47.  It is not for the Court to rule on the question whether personality in public law or personality in private law would be more appropriate for the applicant church or to encourage it or the Greek Government to take steps to have one or the other conferred. The Court does no more than note that the applicant church, which owns its land and buildings, has been prevented from taking legal proceedings to protect them, whereas the Orthodox Church or the Jewish community can do so in order to protect their own property without any formality or required procedure.

Having regard to its conclusion under Article 6 § 1 of the Convention, the Court considers that there has also been a breach of Article 14 taken together with Article 6 § 1 as no objective and reasonable justification for such a difference of treatment has been put forward.

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