Case of the Day: Negrepontis-Giannisis v. Greece

HT to Pietro Franzina for a pointer to the case of the day, Negrepontis-Giannisis v. Greece (ECHR 2011). Nikolaos Negrepontis-Giannisis was born in Athens in 1964. He had always been close with his uncle, who was born Mikhail Negrepontis, but who was renamed Timotheos when he was ordained in the Greek Orthodox church. At age 17, Nikolaos came to Michigan to study, and while here he lived with his uncle, who at the time was Bishop of Detroit (known in America as Bishop Timothy). At age 20, Nikolaos was adopted by Timotheos. According to the opinion, Timotheos signed the court documents “in his capacity as bishop”—Son oncle signa cette déclaration en sa qualité d’évêque. I am not sure what this means. The bishop’s aim, according to the decision, was to have a legitimate son to inherit his fortune and his collection of religious texts and to ensure the survival of his family name. Nikolaos wanted to strengthen the emotional bond he had with his uncle and care for him in his old age. The Michigan judge approved the adoption in 1984.

Nikolaos returned to Greece in 1985 and visited his adoptive father frequently in the US until 1996, when Timotheos returned to Greece permanently. Timotheos also regularly visited Nikolaos in Greece. Timotheos died in 1998 in Athens.

After his death, Timotheos’s sister obtained a judgment from a court in Syros to the effect that she and her siblings were Timotheos’s heirs. But on Nikolaos’s application, a court in Athens recognized the adoption decree, and he sought recognition as the heir. The siblings returned to the courts, seeking a declaration that since Timotheos had become a monk in 1950 and since, under Orthodox canon law dating from the seventh and ninth centuries C.E., a monk cannot adopt a child, the adoption could not be recognized. The Greek courts agreed and held that the adoption decree was contrary to public policy and could not be recognized.

Nikolaos sought relief from the European Court of Human Rights, arguing that the Greek decision was contrary to Article 8 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, which provides:

  1. Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.
  2. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

The ECHR agreed with Nikolaos. Pietro has a good analysis of the case, in English, in Diritti umani e diritto internazionale vol. 5, n. 3 (2011), which is available at the website of the Società Italiana di Diritto Internazionale. As this is well outside my area of expertise, I have nothing to add to Pietro’s analysis.

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