The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights rendered its judgment in the case of Molla Sali v. Greece (application no. 20452/14). The Cour held, unanimously, that there had been a violation of Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) of the European Convention on Human Rights, read in conjunction with Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 (protection of property) to the Convention. The case concerned the application by the domestic courts of Islamic religious law (Sharia) to an inheritance dispute between Greek nationals belonging to the Muslim minority, contrary to the will of the testator (a Greek belonging to the Muslim minority, Ms Molla Sali’s deceased husband), who had bequeathed his whole estate to his wife under a will drawn up in accordance with Greek civil law. The courts considered the will devoid of effect because the law applicable to the case was Islamic inheritance law. They ruled that in Greece, the latter law applied specifically to Greeks of Muslim faith. Ms Molla Sali, who had been deprived of three-quarters of her inheritance, submitted that she had suffered a difference in treatment on grounds of religion because had her husband not been of Muslim faith, she would have inherited the whole estate. The Court found in particular that the difference in treatment suffered by Ms Molla Sali as the beneficiary of a will drawn up under the Civil Code by a Greek testator of Muslim faith, as compared with a beneficiary of a will drawn up under the Civil Code by a Greek testator not of Muslim faith, had not been objectively and reasonably justified. The Court pointed out, inter alia, that freedom of religion did not require the Contracting States to create a particular legal framework in order to grant religious communities a special status entailing specific privileges. Nevertheless, a State which had created such a status had to ensure that the criteria established for a group’s entitlement to it were applied in a non-discriminatory manner. Furthermore, refusing members of a religious minority the right to voluntarily opt for and benefit from ordinary law amounted not only to discriminatory treatment but also to a breach of a right of cardinal importance in the field of protection of minorities, that is to say the right to free self- identification. Lastly, the Court noted that Greece was the only country in Europe which, up until the material time, had applied Sharia law to a section of its citizens against their wishes. That was particularly problematic in the present case because the application of Sharia law had led to a situation that was detrimental to the individual rights of a widow who had inherited her husband’s estate in accordance with the rules of civil law but who had then found herself in a legal situation which neither she nor her husband had intended.
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