Johnston and Others v Ireland: ECHR 18 Dec 1986

Hudoc Judgment (Merits and just satisfaction) Preliminary objection rejected (victim); Preliminary objection rejected (non-exhaustion); Violation of Art. 8; Pecuniary damage – claim rejected; Non-pecuniary damage – finding of violation sufficient; Costs and expenses award – Convention proceedings
The applicants were an unmarried couple who could not marry, and so legitimate their daughter, the third applicant, because the Irish Constitution did not permit divorce. They relied on article 14 in conjunction with article 8, arguing that they had been discriminated against on grounds of their limited financial means, since (had they been better off) they could have obtained a divorce by the expedient of a spell of residence outside the Republic.
Held: The complaint was rejected in short measure: ‘Article 14 safeguards persons who are ‘placed in analogous situations’ against discriminatory differences of treatment in the exercise of the rights and freedoms recognised by the Convention. The court notes that under the general Irish rules of private international law foreign divorces will be recognised in Ireland only if they have been obtained by persons domiciled abroad. It does not find it to have been established that these rules are departed from in practice. In its view, the situations of such persons and of the first and second applicants cannot be regarded as analogous.’
the ECtHR said: ‘ . . the Court agrees with the Commission that the ordinary meaning of the words ‘right to marry’ is clear, in the sense that they cover the formation of marital relationships but not their dissolution. Furthermore, these words are found in a context that includes an express reference to ‘national laws’; even if, as the applicants would have it, the prohibition on divorce is to be seen as a restriction on capacity to marry, the Court does not consider that, in a society adhering to the principle of monogamy, such a restriction can be regarded as injuring the substance of the right guaranteed by Article 12 (art. 12). (our emphasis)
Moreover, the foregoing interpretation of Article 12 (art. 12) is consistent with its object and purpose as revealed by the travaux preparatoires. . . In the Court’s view, the travaux preparatoires disclose no intention to include in Article 12 (art. 12) any guarantee of a right to have the ties of marriage dissolved by divorce.
The applicants set considerable store on the social developments that have occurred since the Convention was drafted, notably an alleged substantial increase in marriage breakdown.
It is true that the Convention and its Protocols must be interpreted in the light of present-day conditions (see, amongst several authorities, the above-mentioned Marckx judgment, Series A no. 31, p. 26, ss 58). However, the Court cannot, by means of an evolutive interpretation, derive from these instruments a right that was not included therein at the outset. This is particularly so here, where the omission was deliberate.’


[1986] ECHR 17, 9697/82, [1986] 9 EHRR 203, ECLI:CE:ECHR:1986:1218JUD000969782


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European Convention on Human Rights 814


Human Rights

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Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Human Rights, Discrimination, Family

Updated: 15 October 2022; Ref: scu.164961