Ethnicity is objective, Courts do not have exclusive competence to rule on the national identity of a foreigner

Decisions of foreign courts confirming a person’s national identity are recognisable in Lithuania. In today’s ruling in case e3K-3-24-969/2024, the Supreme Court confirmed that a person’s ethnic identity is an essential aspect of a person’s private life and identity, falling within the scope of Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, and that therefore, confirmation of a Lithuanian nationality does not fall under the exclusive competence of the Lithuanian courts. On the contrary, ethnicity, both in the context of international and national law, is treated as an objective category, manifested by objective characteristics: origin, language, customs, religion, traditional way of life, etc.


The case concerned the recognition of the decision of a foreign court regarding the Lithuanian ethnicity of our client.  The Migration Department noted in its submission that in the court decision itself it was not stated that the decision would be enforced in a foreign state, moreover the decision sought to be recognised resolved issues which, according to the law of the Republic of Lithuania, fall within the exclusive competence of the courts of the Republic of Lithuania.

The Court upheld however the applicant’s arguments that it is illogical to argue that a court of the third State cannot rule on entries in the documents of its citizens, including entries concerning their ethnic identity. The judgment sought to be recognised has first of all produced legal effects in the country of origin, as the applicant by virtue of this decision is now considered to be a Lithuanian in the official registers of that State. By requesting recognition of the judgment, the applicant seeked to be recognised as a Lithuanian in Lithuania as well.

The European Court of Human Rights  has confirmed that ethnic identity (nationality), in particular the right of members of a national minority to maintain their identity and to lead a private and family life in accordance with their own traditions, is part of the right to private and family life under Article 8 of the Convention on Human Rights, and that States are therefore obliged to facilitate, rather than to disproportionately hinder, the traditional lifestyle of minorities. The right to free self-identification in general is a cornerstone of international minority protection law. This is particularly true of the negative aspect of this right: no bilateral or multilateral treaty or other instrument requires anyone to submit to a special regime for the protection of minorities against their will. The ECtHR has held that a refusal by the authorities to register a person’s declared ethnicity constitutes a breach of the State’s positive obligation to ensure that the applicant’s private life is effectively respected (Ciubotaru v. Moldova, petition no. 27138/04, para. 53).

The provisions of Article 789 of the Civil Procedure Code do not expressly exclude cases concerning the determination of a person’s ethnicity from the exclusive competence of the courts of the Republic of Lithuania, as a case of special jurisdiction. The Chamber of Judges clarified that the provisions establishing the exclusive competence of the courts of the Republic of Lithuania cannot be interpreted and applied more broadly due to their exclusive nature, i.e. there is no reason to apply them also to other cases not expressly mentioned.

The Chamber of Judges noted further that citizenship is undoubtedly an institute of national law of each State, i.e. each State defines in its own legislation the conditions and procedure for acquiring, restoring and losing citizenship, and regulates other relations related to citizenship (The Constitutional Court’s ruling of 13 November 2006); only state institutions may decide on issues of citizenship and, in doing so, they may only carry out such actions as are provided for by the Constitution, laws and other legal acts (Constitutional Court’s ruling of 30 December 2003). However, in the present case, the applicant, in requesting recognition of a foreign court decision on the basis of her Lithuanian national identity, did not link her request to the aim of acquiring or restoring citizenship of the Republic of Lithuania. Moreover, according to the provisions of the Law on Citizenship (Articles 9 and 10), the conditions for acquiring citizenship by simplified procedure or for restoring citizenship are not linked to a person’s Lithuanian national identity. According to the data in the case, the applicant has consistently emphasised her desire to uphold her Lithuanian identity and to be recognised as a Lithuanian both in her country and in Lithuania, both during the proceedings in her country’s court and during the recognition of the decision in Lithuania.

The Chamber of Judges noted that the Supreme Court of Lithuania has not established a practice according to which the question of establishing the legal fact of a person’s national identity is within the exclusive competence of the courts of the Republic of Lithuania. Notwithstanding the rulings of the Court of Appeal of Lithuania in cases where decisions of foreign courts to establish a relationship of kinship or Lithuanian origin (with a view to restoring Lithuanian citizenship) were refused recognition, these rulings are not to be regarded as having precedential value for the case at hand.

Decisions of foreign courts confirming the fact of a person’s national identity may be recognised in Lithuania. Article 32 of the Constitution stipulates that every Lithuanian has the right to settle in Lithuania.

Further comments of the “ReLex” managing partner in




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