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ECHR: No rights violations caused by Belgian bans on covering face in public
20.7.17
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The European Court of Human Rights recently handed down two judgments on Belgian bans on face coverings in public, targeted at those who were the full-face veil. In both cases - which concerned bans in three municipalities and a national ban - the Court found there was no breach of the rights to private and family life; freedom of thought, conscience and religion; or the prohibition on discrimination. In one of the cases, however, the Court did find a violation of the right to access a court.

Ban on wearing face covering in public in three Belgian municipalities was not in breach of the Convention (press release, 11 July 2017, pdf):

"In today’s Chamber judgment1 in the case of Dakir v. Belgium (application no. 4619/12) the European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been:

no violation of Articles 8 (right to respect for private and family life) and 9 (right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion) of the European Convention on Human Rights,

no violation of Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination), taken together with Articles 8 and 9 of the Convention, and a violation of Article 6 § 1 (right of access to a court).

The case concerned a by-law adopted in June 2008 by three Belgian municipalities (Pepinster, Dison and Verviers) concerning a ban on the wearing in public places of clothing that conceals the face, and the subsequent proceedings before the Conseil d’État.

The Court found in particular that the ban imposed by the joint by-law of municipalities in the Vesdre police area could be regarded as proportionate to the aim pursued, namely the preservation of the conditions of “living together” as an element of the “protection of the rights and freedoms of others. It therefore held that the contested restriction could be regarded as “necessary” “in a democratic society”, and that – similarly to the situation which had previously arisen in France (S.A.S. v. France2) – the question whether or not it should be permitted to wear the full-face veil in public places in Belgium constituted a choice of society.

The Court also held that the decision by the Conseil d’État to declare Ms Dakir’s application inadmissible on the ground that it was based only on Article 113bis of the by-law, without reference to Article 113, had been excessively formalistic, and that Ms Dakir’s access to the Conseil d’État had been limited to such an extent that it had upset the fair balance that ought to be struck between, on the one hand, the legitimate concern to ensure that the formal procedure for appealing to courts was complied with and, on the other, the right of access to the courts. The Court noted that Ms Dakir’s arguments on the merits had been set out in a substantiated and structured manner and were of particular significance."

See the judgment: AFFAIRE DAKIR c. BELGIQUE (French only, pdf)

Ban on wearing face covering in public in Belgium did not violate Convention rights (press release, 11 June 2017, pdf)

In today’s Chamber judgment1 in the case of Belcacemi and Oussar v. Belgium (application no. 37798/13) the European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been:

no violation of Articles 8 (right to respect for private and family life) and 9 (freedom of thought, conscience and religion) of the European Convention on Human Rights, and

no violation of Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) taken together with Articles 8 and 9. The case concerned the ban on the wearing in public of clothing that partly or totally covers the face under the Belgian law of 1 June 2011.

The Court found in particular that the restriction sought to guarantee the conditions of “living together” and the “protection of the rights and freedoms of others” and that it was “necessary in a democratic society”.

See the judgment: AFFAIRE BELCACEMI ET OUSSAR c. BELGIQUE (French only, pdf)

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