Court standardized the spelling of another family’s name
On 25 March 2021, the District Court of Vilnius City issued a decision that obliged the Civil Registry Office (CMS) to enter the surname with the letter “W” on both the marriage record of a Lithuanian woman married to a British national and the birth record of their child. The decision has already become final.
In the present case it was established that the applicants got married in the United Kingdom, and their child was born there. The applicant applied to CMS to change her surname to ‘Westerfield’ as she wished to use the same surname as her husband. CMS issued a denial decision and stated that her surname could appear in the form “Vesterfield” and that this would be considered as a graphic version of the surname “Westerfield”. The applicant was not happy with this proposal as her husband’s original surname appeared to be distorted, so she decided to keep her maiden name. The applicants, through the Embassy of the Republic of Lithuania in London, requested that the birth of the child be registered under the surname “Westerfield”, but CMS refused to comply with the applicants’ request. It again proposed the Lithuanised version “Vesterfield” and suggested to take the matter to a court.
In this decision, the Court assessed the requirements of the legislation and concluded that the current legal regulation in Lithuania is not sufficient to meet the social needs expressed by natural persons and to guarantee their rights. Article 2.20(1) of the Civil Code of the Republic of Lithuania states that every natural person has the right to his or her name. The term “name” is interpreted widely and includes not only first name(s) but also surname and pseudonym.
In its decision the Court also followed the relevant international case-law. The Court of Justice of the European Union has noted that a person’s forename and surname are a constituent element of his identity and of his private life, the protection of which is enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and in the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
In the view of the District Court of Vilnius City, the refusal to record a surname with a letter “W” is not in conformity with the case law of the Court of Justice of the European Union, the case law of the European Court of Human Rights and the requirements of Article 21 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. The Court based its position on the same arguments as those already set out in another decision of this Court issued on the same day (see https://en.efhr.eu/2021/07/12/another-victory-for-the-right-to-the-original-spelling-of-surnames-the-court-obliged-the-civil-registry-office-to-change-the-surname-by-entering-the-letter-w-on-the-marriag/).
The Court conceded that the spelling of the surname of the applicant and her child differently from the surname of her spouse undoubtedly causes some inconvenience to the applicants in terms of establishing the identity of all family members, the authenticity of the documents presented, family relationships, etc. The Court noted that in the present case no evidence has been produced to show that the inclusion of the surname of the applicant and her child with the letter “W”, i.e. “Westerfield”, is detrimental to the public good or causes practical difficulties. In the present case, not to depart from the existing legal framework and to refuse the application would not be equitable, would be disproportionate to the negative consequences experienced by the applicants (the applicants’ family would always have to dispel doubts as to their identity and the authenticity of the documents they produced and/or would face difficulties in terms of inheritance law, sending their child to school, arranging family documents, travelling etc.).
The European Foundation of Human Rights (EFHR), which provided the applicant with all the necessary legal assistance in the present case, has been emphasising for a long time that the right to retain the surname in its original form is one of the fundamental human rights deriving from the right to respect for private and family life. The refusal to allow the original spelling of the applicant’s and her child’s surname to be maintained violated their right to privacy, discriminated against them and caused them serious administrative, professional and personal inconvenience.
It should be noted that the institution which issued an opinion on the matter – the State Commission of the Lithuanian Language – stated that the spelling of the surname in this case is exclusively a legal issue which must be resolved in the light of legal acts and their interpretation in case law. This means that exceptions and prohibitions on the spelling of names and surnames cannot be in any way related to public order, allegedly for the purpose of protecting the established linguistic culture of the Lithuanian language.
EFHR provides legal assistance to people facing the problem of the original spelling of their names and surnames in personal documents. Legal assistance is provided by EFHR lawyers and attorneys from well-known law firms cooperating with the Foundation. Legal assistance includes advice, drafting of documents and representation in courts. If you are interested, please register by email firstname.lastname@example.org , phone + (370) 691 50 822.