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European Court of Human Rights: Italian Regional Law is discriminatory





Press release issued by the Registrar


The European Court of Human Rights has today notified in writing its Chamber judgment1 in the case of Grande Oriente D`Italia di Palazzo Giustiniani v. Italy (No. 2) (application no. 26740/02).

The Court held by six votes to one that there had been a violation of Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) of the European Convention on Human Rights taken in conjunction with Article 11 (freedom of assembly and association).

Under Article 41 (just satisfaction) of the Convention, the Court held, unanimously, that the finding of a violation constituted in itself sufficient just satisfaction for the non-pecuniary damage and awarded the applicant association 5,000 euros for costs and expenses. (The judgment is available only in French.)

1.  Principal facts

The applicant association, Grande Oriente D’Italia di Palazzo Giustiniani, is an Italian Masonic association which groups together several lodges. It has been in existence since 1805 and is affiliated to Universal Freemasonry.

The applicant association had previously introduced an application complaining about a restriction on its freedom of association on account of a regional law enacted by the Marches Region. On 2 August 2001 the European Court of Human Rights delivered a judgment (Grande Oriente D’Italia di Palazzo Giustiniani v. Italy).

The present application concerns Regional Law no. 1 of 15 February 2000 of the Autonomous Region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia. That law laid down, among other things, the rules to be followed for nominations to public offices for which the Region was the appointing authority. In particular, it required candidates for such posts to declare to the president of the regional executive and the appointments board of the Regional Council whether they were a member of a Masonic or, in any event, a secret association. The absence of a declaration constituted a ground for refusing appointment.

A note by the Regional Council of Friuli-Venezia Giulia of 15 September 2005 shows that only one of the 237 candidates for a post on the executive board of a company in which the Region was a stakeholder had declared their membership of a Masonic lodge. That person was chosen by the Regional Council to carry out those duties.

2.  Procedure and composition of the Court

The application was lodged with the European Court of Human Rights on 7 June 2000.

Judgment was given by a Chamber of seven judges, composed as follows:

Christos Rozakis (Greek), President
Elisabeth Steiner (Austrian), 
Khanlar Hajiyev (Azerbaijani), 
Dean Spielmann (Luxemburger), 
Sverre Erik Jebens (Norwegian), 
Giorgio Malinverni (Swiss), judges
Annalisa Ciampi (Italian), ad hoc judge
and also Søren Nielsen, Section Registrar.

3.  Summary of the judgment2


Relying on Article 14 of the Convention, taken in conjunction with Article 11, the applicant association complained that section 55 of Regional Law no. 1 of 2000 was discriminatory and incompatible with its right to freedom of association.

It alleged that section 55 of Regional Law no. 1 of 2000 had also violated Article 11 of the Convention, taken alone, and Article 13 (right to an effective remedy).

Decision of the Court

Article 14 taken together with Article 11

The Court held that, having regard to the negative effects that the obligation to declare one’s membership of a Masonic lodge might have on the applicant association’s image and associative life, it could claim to be a “victim” of a breach of Article 11 of the Convention. That conclusion meant that there had been an interference with its right to freedom of association. It followed that the facts in question fell within the ambit of Article 11. Article 14 of the Convention was therefore applicable.

The Court observed that the provision in question distinguished between secret and Masonic associations, membership of which had to be declared, and all other associations. Members of the latter were exempted from any obligation to make such a declaration when seeking nomination for public office, and could not therefore incur the statutory penalty for an omission.

Accordingly, there was a difference of treatment between the members of the applicant association and the members of any other non-secret association.

Regarding whether there was an objective and reasonable justification for such a difference, the Court reiterated that it had already held that the prohibition on nominating Freemasons to public office, which had been introduced in order to “reassure” the public at a time when there had been controversy surrounding their role in the life of the country, had pursued the legitimate aims of protecting national security and preventing disorder. The Court considered that those requirements remained valid. 

The Court further reiterated that, examining the issue under Article 11 of the Convention taken alone, it had found that the prohibition on nominating Freemasons to certain public offices for which the Region was the appointing authority was not “necessary in a democratic society”. It had observed that penalising someone for their membership of an association was unjustified, since that fact was not in itself legally reprehensible.

The present case differed from the previous one in that, under the Friuli-Venezia Giulia legislation, membership of the Freemasons did not automatically debar the candidate from nomination for one of the offices in question. That a Freemason was not automatically debarred had been demonstrated by the fact that the only candidate to have declared his membership of a lodge had been chosen by the Regional Council for the office in question.

The Court found, however, that those considerations, which might be relevant under Article 11 taken alone, were not so important where the case was examined, as in the instant case, from the standpoint of the no-discrimination clause. It considered that membership of many other non-secret associations might create a problem for national security and the prevention of disorder where members of those associations held public office. This might be the case, for example, for political parties or groups advocating racist or xenophobic ideas, or for sects or associations with a military-type internal structure or those that established a rigid and incompressible bond of solidarity between their members or pursued an ideology that ran counter to the rules of democracy, which was a fundamental element of “European public order”.

In Friuli-Venezia Giulia, however, only members of a Masonic association were under an obligation to declare their membership when they sought nomination to certain public offices for which the Region was the appointing authority. No objective and reasonable justification for this difference in treatment between non-secret associations had been advanced by the Government.

 Accordingly, the Court held that there had been a violation of Article 14 taken in conjunction with Article 11 of the Convention.

Articles 11 and 13

Having regard to the finding in respect of Article 14 of the Convention, the Court held that there was no need to examine whether there had in this case been a violation of Article 11 taken alone and/or of Article 13.


The Court’s judgments are accessible on its Internet site (

The European Court of Human Rights was set up in Strasbourg by the Council of Europe Member States in 1959 to deal with alleged violations of the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights.

1 Under Article 43 of the Convention, within three months from the date of a Chamber judgment, any party to the case may, in exceptional cases, request that the case be referred to the 17-member Grand Chamber of the Court. In that event, a panel of five judges considers whether the case raises a serious question affecting the interpretation or application of the Convention or its protocols, or a serious issue of general importance, in which case the Grand Chamber will deliver a final judgment. If no such question or issue arises, the panel will reject the request, at which point the judgment becomes final. Otherwise Chamber judgments become final on the expiry of the three-month period or earlier if the parties declare that they do not intend to make a request to refer.

2 This summary by the Registry does not bind the Court.

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