The District Court of Vilnius has delivered a landmark ruling regarding the spelling of last names. For the first time the Court has bound the Vilnius registry office to include the letter ‘w’ in the civil status records of a child. At the same time there is a third judgement confirming that the rights of an individual need to be respected in Lithuania. More about the ruling adopted last year on the family name Pauwels can be found here.
On 12 April the Vilnius City District Court issued a ruling in the Wardyn case. The family concerned has been fighting in the courts for the right to the original spelling of names and surnames for over ten years. In an unprecedented and historic judgement the Lithuanian court has allowed the spelling of the name in question with “w” in the birth certificate of the child. One of the child’s parents is Lithuanian, while the other has Polish citizenship. In its judgement the court looked at the arguments put forward by the applicants, pointing out that ‘the applicants are of Polish origin, identify themselves as people of Polish origin and have citizenship of different countries. It is evident that they cultivate Polish traditions and culture, and they are often present in Lithuania, Poland and Belgium, thus the spelling of their son’s last name is of importance to them. The evidence provided by the applicants shows that on the documents issued in Lithuania their son’s surname is spelled with the letter “V”, whereas in Poland and Belgium the child’s name is spelled with the letter “W”. It is clear that the different spelling already causes inconvenience and might cause even greater problems in the future. Taking into account all of the aforementioned circumstances in this particular case, the written evidence delivered, opinion expressed by the persons concerned and the position of the institution submitting an opinion, lack of initiative on the part of a legislator and lack of a clear legal basis currently restricting the right of a person to the choice of a name and having the same surname for children, it is appropriate to aim to avoid further disadvantage due to different spellings, especially for a family living in several European Union countries and freely moving within EU territory. Thus, it is believed that in this case a departure from the existing regulatory framework and court practice can be justified and further annuls the contested decision in which it was not permitted for the applicants to include the letter “w” in their son’s surname. This decision is also based on the fact that, according to data from the Official Register at the Ministry of the Interior, there are persons registered with their names and surnames spelled with the letter “w”. Account should also be paid to the judgement based not only on the explanations given by the Court of Justice of the European Union, but also on the provisions of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities.
It should be emphasised that the Vilnius registry office, as well as the State Commission on the Lithuanian Language (Valstybinė lietuvių kalbos komisija), reached a consensus that the spelling of names and surnames does not pose a threat to the protection of the Lithuanian language: the last name of a person married to a foreigner who accepts his or her surname should be spelled with letters from the Latin alphabet, recognising the identity document of a foreigner as the source document. EFHR legal assistant Evelina Baliko, representing several families fighting for their right to use their first and last names according to the original spelling, as well as respect for private life, points out that the EU Court of Justice had already explained that a person exercising his or her rights to free movement and establishment in one of the Member States of the EU, coerced to use a different surname than the one registered in the country of residence, might have their right to free movement hindered, and it could also result in some disadvantage and inconvenience in their professional and private lives.
The European Foundation of Human Rights receives an increasing number of requests from families who have experienced disregard for source documents and whose surnames have been forcibly changed. Currently, EFHR has some cases that are still pending before the court. We are hoping that the legislator, when addressing the issue of the spelling of names in their original form, will take into account recent court judgements, as well as the obstacles currently being faced by Lithuanian citizens.
The European Foundation of Human Rights encourages everyone concerned with the spelling of their names and surnames to get in touch with our office in order to receive free legal assistance.