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Lithuania / Vilnius City District Court / e2YT-17499-465/2020

Ž.B. v. Civil Registry Division of Vilnius City Municipal Administration

Deciding Body type:
National Court/Tribunal
Decision date:
Key facts of the case:

The case originated in the civil suit brought by the plaintiff Ž.B. against the Civil Registry Division of Vilnius City Municipal Administration appealing the Division’s decision not to record in the register her marriage with a Polish citizen and not to issue her a marriage certificate with her marital surname containing the letter “w”, which is not used in the Lithuanian alphabet. The plaintiff argued that such decision infringed her right to family life and caused her a lot of inconvenience. According to her, she frequently travels between Lithuania and Poland, and other foreign states, and each time has to prove the identity of her family members. In response to the suit, the Vilnius City Municipal Administration asked the court to adjudicate the case by using the court’s discretion. According to the Administration, it could not satisfy the plaintiff’s request due to the existing legislation and that it could issue certificates with the surnames containing letters „w“, „q“ or „x“ only upon a decision of the court.

The State Commission of the Lithuanian Language issued an expert opinion in the case, claiming that the plaintiff’s request to register her surname with letter “w” would contradict existing legislation because civil status acts must be recorded in the Lithuanian language, whereas the names and surnames of Lithuanian citizens must be recorded in the Lithuanian alphabet by amending “w” to “v”. However, the Commission drew the Court’s attention to the circumstance, that taking into account the needs of the current society, exceptions can be made. One of them – recording of the surnames of Lithuanian citizens who entered into marriage with foreign citizens, and the surnames of their children, in the Latin alphabet.

Key legal question raised by the Court:
The key legal question raised by the Court was whether to oblige the Civil Registry Division of Vilnius City Municipal Administration to include the plaintiff‘s marriage in the register and to issue her a marriage certificate with the plaintiff‘s marital surname containing letter „w“, which the Lithuanian alphabet does not contain.
Outcome of the case:

The court issued a decision to oblige the Civil Registry Division of Vilnius City Municipal Administration to record the plaintiff’s marriage and issue her a marriage certificate with her original marital surname containing letter “w”. The court concluded that the existing legal regulation was inadequate to satisfy the social needs of persons and ensure their rights. The court relied on the Civil Code of the Republic of Lithuania, which guarantees every person the right to a name, including name (s), surname and pseudonym. The court also invoked the case-law of the Court of Justice of the European Union where the CJEU affirmed that a person’s forename and surname are a constituent element of their identity and of their private life, the protection of which is enshrined in Article 7 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (Judgment of 12 May 2011, Runevič-Vardyn and Wardyn, C-391/09). In the judgment of 2 June 2016, Nabiel Peter Bogendorff von Wolffersdorff, C-438/14 the CJEU also held that a refusal by authorities to recognise the forename and surname of a national of a Member State which they have acquired in another Member State may constitute a restriction of freedoms recognised by Article 21 of the TFEU if such refusal causes them ‘serious inconvenience’ at administrative, professional and private levels. The court also invoked the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights, where the ECtHR held that issues related with the spelling of names and surnames fall under Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms; whilst assessing whether State interference into the use of one’s name and surname complies with Article 8 of the Convention, it is to be taken into account,

inter alia, whether the surname in the original spelling is provided for in the passport, how original and adapted spelling differ, whether the adapted spelling hinders the identification of the person and whether any practical difficulties arise because of that (Bulgakov v Ukraine, application No. 59894/00). Drawing on the above, the court concluded that the plaintiff resides in the Republic of Poland and frequently travels from Poland to Lithuania and other foreign states, and different surnames of family members cause the family inconvenience, as they regularly have to prove their identities. The court also held that according to the data from the State register, there are already Lithuanian citizens whose personal identification documents contain names and surnames with the letter “w”. Therefore, according to the court, the use of the letter “w” in personal identification documents in the Republic of Lithuania is possible and feasible. The court found that there are no data in the case indicating that derivation from the existing legal regulation would cause a threat to the State language. Accordingly, the court, invoking the principles of justice, reasonableness and fairness, concluded that the plaintiff’s suit should be satisfied.