The European Foundation of Human Rights (EFHR) welcomes the landmark ruling of Vilnius City District Court which has changed Lithuania’s stance regarding the spelling of names and surnames in their original form. The Court has allowed a Lithuanian citizen’s surname to be spelled with the letter “w”. EFHR held a press conference at the Court at 2pm on the 30 July with BNS Press Agency.
EFHR has, for a number of years, been stressing that the right to spell one’s name in its original form is a fundamental human right. It is a right that stems from the right to personal and private life. This does not only mean the right to have a name or a surname but also includes the right to change this name.
On 15 March 2014 Vilnius registry office issued a marriage certificate to applicants in which the Lithuanian citizen’s surname was spelled with “v” (Pauvels) and her Belgian husband’s surname was left unchanged and spelled with “w” (Pauwels). In February of this year the matter of changing the surname to “Pauwels” was taken to Vilnius City District Court with the help of EFHR’s attorneys. In the filed complaint it was argued that the unlawful and unjustifiable refusal to register the surname in its original form breached the rights of the applicant and her family to private life and the right to cultivate one’s culture, language and religion. Moreover, such a refusal was discriminatory and it raised administrative, professional and personal difficulties.
The Vilnius City District Court ruling from 30 July annulled the Vilnius registry office decision and bound the office to change the applicant’s surname to “Pauwels” and to issue a new marriage certificate. The Court stated that an individual’s private life and the inviolability of one’s private life should be a priority for Lithuania, and not just protection of the Lithuanian cultural identity. It added that new circumstances, such as free movement of persons and the absence of internal borders within the EU, must be taken into account since Lithuania joined the European Union (EU). Consequently, restricting the right to choose one’s surname when it does not prejudice public order and morality is unlawful. The Court also stated that the surname of the couple’s children would differ from those of their parents and thus lead to the restriction of their rights and interests. The Court based its decision on the fact that in Lithuania there are already persons registered whose names/surnames are spelled with the letter “w”, which is confirmed here. The Court ruling is legally valid.
EFHR would like to remind all that the Foundation is the only non-governmental organization in Lithuania which has been fighting for the right to the original spelling of names and surnames for years. We are glad that the arguments, which have been repeated over and over again, have finally been heard. EFHR believes that the spouses’ activity, their presence together with a representative of EFHR at meetings of Parliamentary Law and Order Committee and their active defence of their rights at court, together with other factors which went in our favour, led to winning the case. EFHR expresses hope that the court decision from 30 July will finally change the practice of registry offices and courts. This decision may change the situation and Lithuanian citizens including persons belonging to national minorities will no longer face difficulties arising from a different spelling of their surnames in documents. We have noticed that there are more and more such cases and clients.