Acquisition of Legal Personality and Registration

Metropolitan Church of Bessarabia and Others v Moldova, 13 December 2001 [ECtHR]

Case no 45701/99

107. The applicants accepted that the interference in question was prescribed by the Religious Denominations Act. They asserted nevertheless that the procedure laid down by the Act had been misapplied, since the real reason for refusal to register had been political; the Government had neither submitted nor proved that the applicant Church had failed to comply with the laws of the Republic. 

108. The Government made no observation on this point.

109.  The Court refers to its established case-law to the effect that the terms “prescribed by law” and “in accordance with the law” in Articles 8 to 11 of the Convention not only require that the impugned measures have some basis in domestic law, but also refer to the quality of the law in question, which must be sufficiently accessible and foreseeable as to its effects, that is formulated with sufficient precision to enable the individual – if need be with appropriate advice – to regulate his conduct (see The Sunday Times v. the United Kingdom (no. 1), judgment of 26 April 1979, Series A no. 30, p. 31, § 49; Larissis and Others v. Greece, judgment of 24 February 1998, Reports 1998-I, p. 378, § 40; Hashman and Harrup v. the United Kingdom [GC], no. 25594/94, § 31, ECHR 1999-VIII; and Rotaru v. Romania [GC], no. 28341/95, § 52, ECHR 2000-V).
For domestic law to meet these requirements, it must afford a measure of legal protection against arbitrary interferences by public authorities with the rights guaranteed by the Convention. In matters affecting fundamental rights it would be contrary to the rule of law, one of the basic principles of a democratic society enshrined in the Convention, for a legal discretion granted to the executive to be expressed in terms of an unfettered power. Consequently, the law must indicate with sufficient clarity the scope of any such discretion and the manner of its exercise (see Hasan and Chaush v. Bulgaria [GC], no. 30985/96, § 84, ECHR 2000-XI).
The level of precision required of domestic legislation – which cannot in any case provide for every eventuality – depends to a considerable degree on the content of the instrument in question, the field it is designed to cover and the number and status of those to whom it is addressed (see Hashman and Harrup, cited above, § 31, and Groppera Radio AG and Others v. Switzerland, judgment of 28 March 1990, Series A no. 173, p. 26, § 68).

110. In the present case the Court notes that section 14 of the Law of 24 March 1992 requires religious denominations to be recognised by a government decision and that, according to section 9 of the same law, only denominations whose practices and rites are compatible with the Moldovan Constitution and legislation may be recognised. 

Without giving a categorical answer to the question whether the above-mentioned provisions satisfy the requirements of foreseeability and precision, the Court is prepared to accept that the interference in question was “prescribed by law” before deciding whether it pursued a “legitimate aim” and was “necessary in a democratic society”.

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Registration Founding meeting Documentation Premises Grounds for refusal Processing applications Fair decision-making Renewal requirements Need for precision in any requirements Name or description Length of existence Delay Opportunity to amend application Judicial control