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On the restoration of the rights of ownership only to citizens of the Republic of Lithuania

Case No. 10/2008-119/2010

THE CONSTITUTIONAL COURT OF THE REPUBLIC OF LITHUANIA
RULING

ON THE COMPLIANCE OF PARAGRAPH 1 OF ARTICLE 2 (WORDING OF 14 OCTOBER 2003) AND PARAGRAPH 1 OF ARTICLE 10 (WORDING OF 12 OCTOBER 2004) OF THE LAW ON RESTORATION OF THE RIGHTS OF OWNERSHIP OF CITIZENS TO THE EXISTING REAL PROPERTY WITH THE CONSTITUTION OF THE REPUBLIC OF LITHUANIA

22 December 2010
Vilnius

 

The Constitutional Court of the Republic of Lithuania, composed of the Justices of the Constitutional Court Armanas Abramavičius, Toma Birmontienė, Pranas Kuconis, Kęstutis Lapinskas, Zenonas Namavičius, Ramutė Ruškytė, Egidijus Šileikis, Algirdas Taminskas, and Romualdas Kęstutis Urbaitis,

with the secretary—Daiva Pitrėnaitė,

in the presence of the representatives of the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania, the party concerned, who were Edmundas Pupinis, Chairman of the Seimas Committee on Rural Affairs, Gintarė Dešukaitė, an adviser of the Office of the Rural Affairs Committee of the Office of the Seimas, Ona Buišienė, a senior adviser of the Public Law Unit of the Legal Department of Office of the Seimas, and Neringa Azguridienė, an adviser of the same unit,

pursuant to Articles 102 and 105 of the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania and Article 1 of the Law on the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Lithuania, in its public hearing on 15 December 2010 heard constitutional justice case No. 10/2008-119/2010 subsequent to:

1) the petition of the Šiauliai Regional Administrative Court, a petitioner, requesting to investigate whether Articles 2 and 10 of the Republic of Lithuania Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property, in the aspect that, according to the petitioner, regardless of nationality or citizenship, it is related with the innate right of a person to ownership, are not in conflict with Articles 18, 23, 29 of the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania (petition No. 1B-11/2008);

2) the petition of the Panevėžys Regional Administrative Court, a petitioner, requesting to investigate whether Paragraph 1 of Article 2 of the Republic of Lithuania Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property, to the extent that it is established that the rights of ownership are restored only to citizens of the Republic of Lithuania, is not in conflict with Articles 23, 29 of the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania and with the constitutional principles of justice and a state under the rule of law (petition No. 1B-133/2010).

By the Constitutional Court decision of 8 December 2010 the petitions of the petitioners were joined into one case and it was given reference No. 10/2008-119/2010.

The Constitutional Court

has established:

I

1. The Šiauliai Regional Administrative Court, a petitioner, was investigating an administrative case. By its ruling the said court suspended the consideration of the case and applied to the Constitutional Court with a petition, requesting to investigate whether Articles 2 and 10 of the Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property, in the aspect that, according to the petitioner, regardless of nationality or citizenship, it is related with the innate right of a person to ownership, are not in conflict with Articles 18, 23, 29 of the Constitution (petition No. 1B-11/2008);

2. The Panevėžys Regional Administrative Court, a petitioner, was investigating an administrative case. By its ruling the said court suspended the consideration of the case and applied to the Constitutional Court with a petition, requesting to investigate whether Paragraph 1 of Article 2 of the Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property, to the extent that it is established that the rights of ownership are restored only to citizens of the Republic of Lithuania, is not in conflict with Articles 23, 29 of the Constitution and with the constitutional principles of justice and a state under the rule of law (petition No. 1B-133/2010).

II

1. The petition of the Šiauliai Regional Administrative Court, a petitioner, is substantiated by the following arguments.

Article 2 of the Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property provides that ownership rights to the existing real property shall be restored to citizens of the Republic of Lithuania. The petitioner maintains that, from 20 October 1995 till the end of the time limit for filing applications for the restoration of ownership rights, i.e. till 31 December 2001, under Item 1 of Paragraph 1 of Article 1 of the Republic of Lithuania Law on Citizenship, persons who were citizens of the Republic of Lithuania prior to 15 June 1940, and their children (whereas, as from 16 July 1997, also grandchildren) provided that these persons, their children, grandchildren have not repatriated from Lithuania, were deemed to be citizens of the Republic of Lithuania. The Constitutional Court ruling of 13 November 2006 recognised inter alia this legal regulation, to the extent that it had established the condition that the person should not have had repatriated, was recognised to be in conflict with Article 29 of the Constitution and the constitutional principle of a state under the rule of law. Thus, in the opinion of the petitioner, due to the reason that the legal regulation established in the Law on Citizenship, whereby the circle of persons deemed to be citizens of the Republic of Lithuania was defined, was anticonstitutional, Articles 2 and 10 of the Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property, in the aspect that, according to the petitioner, the persons who were deemed to have repatriated and, due to this, were not recognised as citizens of the Republic of Lithuania, groundlessly had no right to restore their rights of ownership, differently from the other former owners of property, who had been allowed to become citizens of the Republic of Lithuania, are also in conflict with the Constitution.

The petitioner notes that the persons, who were deemed repatriated, were prevented from making use of the right to file an application for restoration of the rights of ownership and the opportunity to renew this time limit, since the said persons were not citizens of the Republic of Lithuania until the very end of the said time limit. Under the legal regulation established in Article 10 (wording of 12 October 2004) of the Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property, the applications for restoration of the rights of ownership could be filed till 31 December 2001, whereas as regards those citizens who have omitted the prescribed time limit for reasons acknowledged by the court as valid, the time limit may be renewed.

Alongside, the petitioner doubts whether upon establishing the condition in the Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property that the person must hold citizenship of the Republic of Lithuania, the innate human right to ownership has not been limited unreasonably. The petitioner notes that the right to ownership is also protected under Article 1 of the First Protocol of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (hereinafter also referred to as the Convention) and Article 17 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

2. The petition of the Panevėžys Regional Administrative Court, a petitioner, is substantiated by the following arguments.

Upon establishing the condition in Paragraph 1 of Article 2 of the Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property that the person must hold citizenship of the Republic of Lithuania, the innate human right to ownership has been limited unreasonably. This right is also protected under Article 17 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 1 of the First Protocol of the Convention.

Even though the official constitutional doctrine has held more than once that, in Lithuania, limited restitution is being carried out, this restitution, according to the petitioner, cannot be limited by legal norms of discriminatory character. The petitioner also notes that it is impossible to reach justice by recognising the interests of one group of persons only, and by denying those of another group.

Alongside, the petitioner maintains that the requirement to hold citizenship of the Republic of Lithuania is applied to persons from the moment of filing an application for restoration of the rights of ownership until adoption of a decision on restoration of the rights of ownership. The rights of ownership are not restored to the persons who, at the time of filing the application, were citizens of the Republic of Lithuania, but later lost the citizenship, regardless of the fact that in certain cases the person might lose the citizenship due to the reasons irrespective of his willpower and that the length of the procedure of the restoration of the rights of ownership could be determined by inactivity of state institutions or lack of funds.

III

In the course of the preparation of the case for the Constitutional Court hearing, written explanations were received from the representatives of the Seimas, the party concerned, who were O. Buišienė, a senior adviser of the Public Law Unit of the Legal Department of Office of the Seimas, and N. Azguridienė, an adviser of the same unit (representing the Seimas, the party concerned, in the part of the case subsequent to petition No. 1B-11/2008 of the Šiauliai Regional Administrative Court, a petitioner), from E. Pupinis, Chairman of the Seimas Committee on Rural Affairs (representing the Seimas, the party concerned, in the part of the case subsequent to petition No. 1B-133/2010 of the Panevėžys Regional Administrative Court, a petitioner), in which it is maintained that the disputed legal regulation is not in conflict with the Constitution.

1. The position of O. Buišienė and N. Azguridienė, the representatives of the Seimas, the party concerned, regarding petition No. 1B-11/2008 of the Šiauliai Regional Administrative Court, a petitioner, is substantiated by these arguments.

1.1. The restoration of the rights of ownership of citizens of the Republic of Lithuania and citizenship of the Republic of Lithuania are different legal institutes; in addition, different economic, political, social and other factors as well as the doctrine of the Constitutional Court influenced their development.

The Constitutional Court, having investigated the compliance of the laws regulating the relations of restoration of the rights of ownership with the Constitution more than once, has formulated a broad official constitutional doctrine of restoration of the rights of ownership of citizens to the existing real property, which is grounded inter alia upon these provisions: after the rights of ownership were begun to be restored by the Law “On the Procedure and Conditions of Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property”, there appeared a legitimate expectation to citizens that they would be able to restore the rights of ownership to the existing real property under the conditions and procedure established by the law, while the state undertook the constitutional obligation to execute (continue) the started restitution until the rights of ownership to the existing property would be restored, under the conditions and procedure established in the law, to all citizens who had the right to restore the rights of ownership; the said legitimate expectation of citizens (that that the rights of ownership to the existing real property will be restored to them under the conditions and procedure established by the law) is defended and protected by the Constitution. Taking account of the fact that, according to laws, in Lithuania restitution is executed only with regard to two subjects—citizens of the Republic of Lithuania and religious communities—the representative of the party concerned maintains that the Constitutional Court has formulated its position namely as regards citizens of the Republic of Lithuania.

The Constitutional Court, while deciding analogous constitutional disputes, follows the doctrine formed in previous cases, discloses the content of the Constitution, whereas, having established the fact that provisions of a law, the compliance of which with the Constitution is not disputed by the petitioner, are in conflict with the Constitution, where such provisions interfere in the social relations regulated by the disputed law, the Constitutional Court must state this fact. The Constitutional Court ruling of 20 June 1995 recognised that the provision of Article 2 of the Law “On the Procedure and Conditions of the Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property” that the right of ownership to the existing real property is restored to a citizen of Lithuania who is “permanently residing in the Republic of Lithuania” was not in conflict with the Constitution. In addition, the Constitutional Court, having investigated in various aspects the compliance of the laws regulating the relations of the restoration of the rights of ownership with the Constitution, has not held that the requirement established in the said laws that the subject of the restoration of the rights of ownership must be a citizen of the Republic of Lithuania is of discriminatory character.

1.2. The representatives of the party concerned have noted that the petitioner substantiates its request by Article 1 of the First Protocol of the Convention. The European Court of Human Rights in its 30 June 2009 decision as to admissibility in the case Shub v. Lithuania held that Article 1 of the First Protocol of the Convention does not create any general obligation for the Contracting States to restore property which had been expropriated before they ratified the Convention, that the Convention does not guarantee the right to property restitution, and does not impose any restrictions on the freedom of the state to determine the scope and conditions of any property restitution to former owners; within the meaning of this article, “possessions” can either be “existing possessions” or assets, including claims, in respect of which the applicant can argue that he or she has at least a “legitimate expectation” of obtaining the effective enjoyment of a property right; the Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property did not entitle the applicant to claim the restitution of the property because he did not meet the citizenship requirement, therefore, the applicant had neither a right nor a claim amounting to a legitimate expectation, in the sense of the Court’s case-law, to obtain the restitution of the property in question. The European Court of Human Rights also noted that there is no right to acquire citizenship under the Convention and that the Contracting States are free to determine the requirements of and procedures for citizenship requests. Taking account of this, the representatives of the party concerned have drawn a conclusion that the Convention does not guarantee the right to the restoration of ownership, that the state, under the Convention, is responsible for protection of the rights of ownership of persons inasmuch as it has undertaken obligations by issuing laws on restoration of ownership, and that this is the prerogative of the legislator.

1.3. The constitutional imperatives of a harmonious, just and open civil society, the constitutional requirements of legal certainty, legal security and protection of legitimate expectations imply that the begun process of restitution may not be extended for an unreasonably long time; thus, the amendments of corresponding relations of the legal regulation cannot be such so that they would create preconditions to procrastinate this process for an unreasonably long period. In the course of regulation of the ownership rights’ restoration issues (widening, narrowing the circle of the subjects who have the right to restoration of the rights of ownership, differently regulating the conditions of restoration of the rights of ownership of these subjects, etc.) it is not allowed to establish any such legal regulation whereby one would interfere with the legal relations which have finished. Such regulation would create preconditions to deny legitimate expectations of persons, legal certainty and legal security, the constitutional principle of justice. The representatives of the party concerned have noted that the legal acts regulating citizenship relations were recognised to be in conflict with the Constitution by the Constitutional Court ruling of 13 November 2006. These legal acts may not be applied from the day when the Constitutional Court ruling was officially published.

2. The position of E. Pupinis, the representative of the Seimas, the party concerned, regarding petition No. 1B-133/2010 of the Panevėžys Regional Administrative Court, a petitioner, is substantiated by these arguments.

2.1. The legislator, while making use of its discretion, has established the circle of the persons to whom the rights of ownership are restored, as well as the procedure and conditions of the restitution. Both the Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property and the Law “On the Procedure and Conditions of Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property”, which had been valid until then, consistently employed the notion “citizens”. The state, having decided to return the nationalised or otherwise disseised property, undertook this obligation with respect not to all persons, but namely the persons who complied with the conditions established in the law.

Human rights are universal, innate and inviolable, every human being in Lithuania enjoys them and makes use of them, however, the right to restore the rights of ownership to the existing real property was and is granted not to every human being, but namely to the person who holds citizenship of the Republic of Lithuania, i.e. to a human being who is related with the Republic of Lithuania by a permanent legal link between the person and the state grounded by mutual rights and duties. The representative of the party concerned has also noted that not all citizens of the Republic of Lithuania have the right to restore the rights of ownership, but only those who meet the conditions established by the law; in the course of restoring the rights of ownership, the general norms of the Civil Code of the Republic of Lithuania regulating succession are not applied. Such legal regulation, which has been investigated by the Constitutional Court more than once, was recognised as being in compliance with the Constitution.

2.2. The representative of the party concerned has noted that in case the legal regulation was changed in a manner that the rights of ownership would be restored not only to citizens, but also to all persons, then such new legal regulation would discriminate all persons who did not hold the citizenship and to whom the rights of ownership had not been restored till their death and there were not any successors of theirs established by the law. The situation of these persons would not be equal to the situation of those persons who are still alive and who would be able to make use of the right to restore the rights of ownership. Such change in the regulation would not be in compliance with the constitutional principles of legal certainty, legal stability and equality of persons.

2.3. In the opinion of the representative of the party concerned, after a person has acquired citizenship of another state and upon his loss of citizenship of the Republic of Lithuania, the restitution process becomes discontinued with respect to this person, therefore, the rights of ownership may not be restored to the persons who were holding citizenship of the Republic of Lithuania at the time of filing the application for restoration of the rights of ownership to the existing real property, but who later lost this citizenship. The circumstance that that the restitution process was taking place a long time may not be treated as denying the integrity of this process. A person who believes that damage was inflicted upon him due to failure to act by the state institution, which is responsible for adoption of a decision on restoration of the rights of ownership, has the right to apply to a court for compensation of such damage. Citizenship of the Republic of Lithuania is the main and necessary condition, applied in each case during the entire process of restoration of the rights of ownership to this person—from the moment of filing the application till adoption of a decision by an authorised institution. The Constitutional Court has noted that, until his property is restored, the subjective rights of the former owner to a specific property are not restored yet; the legal meaning of the decision of the institution authorised by the state to restore property in kind or compensate for it is that only from the moment of adoption of such a decision the former owner acquires the rights of ownership to such property. Thus, in the opinion of the representative of the party concerned, the person must hold citizenship of the Republic of Lithuania not only at the moment of filing the application for restoration of the rights of ownership, but also until adoption of an individual decision on restoration his rights of ownership.

IV

In the course of the preparation of the case for the Constitutional Court hearing, written explanations were received from Eglė Račinskienė, the then Vice-minister of Justice of the Republic of Lithuania, and Deividas Kriaučiūnas, Director General of the European Law Department under the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Lithuania.

V

At the Constitutional Court hearing the representatives of the party concerned, the Seimas, who were the Member of the Seimas E. Pupinis, the employees of the Office of the Seimas G. Dešukaitė, O. Buišienė and N. Azguridienė, virtually reiterated the arguments set forth in their written explanations and answered to questions of the justices of the Constitutional Court.

The Constitutional Court

holds that:

I

1. As mentioned, the Šiauliai Regional Administrative Court, a petitioner, has requested to investigate whether Articles 2 and 10 of the Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property, in the aspect that, according to the petitioner, regardless of nationality or citizenship, it is related with the innate right of a person to ownership, are not in conflict with Articles 18, 23, 29 of the Constitution.

2. Although the petitioner, while requesting to investigate inter alia the compliance of Article 2 of the Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property, within the aspect indicated above, with the Constitution, has not specified any concrete wording of Article 2 (and paragraph thereof) of this law, it is clear from the arguments of the petitioner that it has doubted whether the provision “Ownership rights to the real property <…> shall be restored to the <…> citizens of the Republic of Lithuania” of Paragraph 1 of Article 2 (wording of 14 October 2003) of the Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property (wording of 1 July 1997) is not in conflict with the Constitution.

It is also clear from the arguments of the petitioner that it has doubted whether the provision “Ownership rights to the real property <…> shall be restored to the <…> citizens of the Republic of Lithuania” of Paragraph 1 of Article 2 (wording of 14 October 2003) of the Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property (wording of 1 July 1997), to the extent that it is established that the rights of ownership are restored only to citizens of the Republic of Lithuania, is not in conflict with the Constitution.

Thus, the petition of the Šiauliai Regional Administrative Court, a petitioner, requesting to investigate whether Article 2 of the Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property, in the aspect that, according to the petitioner, regardless of nationality or citizenship, it is related with the innate right of a person to ownership, is not in conflict with Articles 18, 23, 29 of the Constitution, is to be treated as a petition, requesting to investigate whether the provision “Ownership rights to the real property <…> shall be restored to the <…> citizens of the Republic of Lithuania” of Paragraph 1 of Article 2 (wording of 14 October 2003) of the Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property (wording of 1 July 1997), to the extent that it is established that the rights of ownership are restored only to citizens of the Republic of Lithuania, is not in conflict with Articles 18, 23, 29 of the Constitution.

3. As mentioned, the Šiauliai Regional Administrative Court, a petitioner, has also requested to investigate whether Article 10 of the Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property, in the aspect that, according to the petitioner, regardless of nationality or citizenship, it is related with the innate right of a person to ownership, is not in conflict with Articles 18, 23, 29 of the Constitution.

Although the Šiauliai Regional Administrative Court, a petitioner, while requesting to investigate inter alia the compliance of Article 10 of the Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property, within the aspect indicated above, with the Constitution, has not specified any concrete wording of Article 10 (and paragraph thereof) of this law, it is clear from the arguments of the petitioner that it has doubted whether Paragraph 1 of Article 10 (wording of 12 October 2004) of the Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property (wording of 1 July 1997) is not in conflict with the Constitution.

It is also clear from the arguments of the petitioner that it, within the aforesaid aspect, has doubted whether Paragraph 1 of Article 10 (wording of 12 October 2004) of the Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property (wording of 1 July 1997), to the extent that it is established that the rights of ownership are restored only to citizens of the Republic of Lithuania and only as regards citizens of the Republic of Lithuania who have omitted the prescribed time limit for reasons acknowledged by the court as valid, the omitted time limit may be renewed, is not in conflict with the Constitution.

Thus, the petition of the Šiauliai Regional Administrative Court, a petitioner, requesting to investigate whether Article 10 of the Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property, in the aspect that, according to the petitioner, regardless of nationality or citizenship, it is related with the innate right of a person to ownership, is not in conflict with Articles 18, 23, 29 of the Constitution, is to be treated as a petition, requesting to investigate whether Paragraph 1 of Article 10 (wording of 12 October 2004) of the Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property (wording of 1 July 1997), to the extent that it is established that the rights of ownership are restored only to citizens of the Republic of Lithuania and only as regards citizens of the Republic of Lithuania who have omitted the prescribed time limit for reasons acknowledged by the court as valid, the omitted time limit may be renewed, is not in conflict with Articles 18, 23, 29 of the Constitution.

4. As mentioned, the Panevėžys Regional Administrative Court, a petitioner, has requested investigation into whether Paragraph 1 of Article 2 of the Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property, to the extent that it is established that the rights of ownership are restored only to citizens of the Republic of Lithuania, is not in conflict with Articles 23, 29 of the Constitution and with the constitutional principles of justice and a state under the rule of law.

Although the petitioner, while requesting to investigate inter alia the compliance of Paragraph 1 of Article 2 of the Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property, to the aforesaid extent, with the Constitution, has not specified any concrete wording of Paragraph 1 of Article 2 of this law and any concrete provision or extent thereof, it is clear from the arguments of the petitioner that it has doubted whether the provision “Ownership rights to the real property <…> shall be restored to the <…> citizens of the Republic of Lithuania” of Paragraph 1 of Article 2 (wording of 14 October 2003) of the Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property (wording of 1 July 1997), to the extent that it is established that the rights of ownership are restored only to citizens of the Republic of Lithuania, is not in conflict with the Constitution.

Thus, the petition of the Panevėžys Regional Administrative Court, a petitioner, requesting to investigate whether Paragraph 1 of Article 2 of the Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property, to the extent that it is established that the rights of ownership are restored only to citizens of the Republic of Lithuania, is not in conflict with Articles 23, 29 of the Constitution and with the constitutional principles of justice and a state under the rule of law is to be treated as a petition, requesting to investigate whether the provision “Ownership rights to the real property <…> shall be restored to the <…> citizens of the Republic of Lithuania” of Paragraph 1 of Article 2 (wording of 14 October 2003) of the Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property (wording of 1 July 1997), to the extent that it is established that the rights of ownership are restored only to citizens of the Republic of Lithuania, is not in conflict with Articles 23, 29 of the Constitution and with the constitutional principles of justice and a state under the rule of law.

5. Thus, subsequent to the petitions of the Šiauliai Regional Administrative Court and the Panevėžys Regional Administrative Court, the petitioner, in the constitutional justice case at issue the Constitutional Court will investigate whether:

the provision “Ownership rights to the real property <…> shall be restored to the <…> citizens of the Republic of Lithuania” of Paragraph 1 of Article 2 (wording of 14 October 2003) of the Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property (wording of 1 July 1997), to the extent that it is established that the rights of ownership are restored only to citizens of the Republic of Lithuania, is not in conflict with Articles 18, 23, and 29 of the Constitution and with the constitutional principles of justice and a state under the rule of law;

Paragraph 1 of Article 10 (wording of 12 October 2004) of the Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property (wording of 1 July 1997), to the extent that it is established that the rights of ownership are restored only to citizens of the Republic of Lithuania and only as regards citizens of the Republic of Lithuania who have omitted the prescribed time limit for reasons acknowledged by the court as valid, the omitted time limit may be renewed, is not in conflict with Articles 18, 23, and 29 of the Constitution.

II

1. On 18 June 1991, the Supreme Council of the Republic of Lithuania adopted the Law “On the Procedure and Conditions of Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property”; after this law came into force on 1 August 1991, the restoration of the rights of ownership to the existing real property was begun.

2. The Law “On the Procedure and Conditions of Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property” (with subsequent amendments and supplements), which was adopted by the Supreme Council on 18 June 1991, whereby the restoration of the rights of ownership was begun, was a special (ad hoc) law designed for regulation of restitution relations and implementation of restoration of the rights of ownership. Such nature of this law was determined by the fact that it used to be applied not to all property relations, but only to those which occurred due to the restoration of the rights of ownership to the real property. It used to be applied not to all former owners and successors of their rights, but only to those that met the conditions established in this law. While establishing the subjects to whom the rights of ownership were to be restored, the legislator chose clear legal criteria, inter alia such, whereby these subjects must hold citizenship of the Republic of Lithuania and permanently reside in Lithuania. The rights of ownership to the existing real property were restored not under general norms of civil law, but only subsequent to the procedure established in this law. The ad hoc character of the law essentially also means that it was to be applied within a relatively short period and in a limited manner—only in the course of restoration of the said rights of ownership during this period of the life of the state.

3. On 1 July 1997, the Seimas adopted the Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property, which came into force (save Paragraph 7 of Article 21 thereof) on 9 July 1997.

4. Even though the title of the Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property is different from the title of Law “On the Procedure and Conditions of Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property”—the law which previously used to regulate the restoration of the rights of ownership—it regulates the relations of the same character, i.e. those of restitution.

5. Since 1994, the Constitutional Court has investigated the compliance of the legal acts regulating the relations of restoration (restitution) of the rights of ownership to the existing real property with the Constitution in a great many constitutional justice cases. In the acts of the Constitutional Court (inter alia rulings of 4 March 2003, 23 August 2005, 5 July 2007, 20 May 2008, and 9 March 2010) a broad official constitutional doctrine of restitution—restoration of the rights of citizens to the existing real property—was formulated. It is grounded upon the following principled provisions that have been stated more than once.

5.1. After the occupation government had carried out nationalisation in 1940 and later, as well as after private property had been disseized in other unlawful ways, the innate human right to possess private property was denied. On the basis of such arbitrary acts of the occupation government, lawful state or public property could not appear and it did not appear, since no right can appear on the grounds of unlawfulness, and the property taken from people in such a way may be considered as property which is only in fact possessed by the state.

5.2. It was not the State of Lithuania that unlawfully nationalised or disseized in other unlawful ways the property of the owners; the Supreme Council elected by the Nation in 1990 and the executive power formed by it were not liable for the occupation of Lithuania and its consequences, either.

5.3. When, on 15 November 1990, the Supreme Council adopted the principled decision that it is necessary to restore the rights of ownership, it was held that the continuity of the rights of ownership of citizens of Lithuania is unquestionably recognised, that citizens of Lithuania have the right to retrieve in kind, within the limits and under procedure defined by the law, the property that had belonged to them, while in case there are no possibilities to retrieve it, then to receive compensation for it.

5.4. The State of Lithuania, while striving to restore justice in part at least, i.e. to restore the violated rights of ownership, chose restricted restitution, but not restitutio in integrum. Such choice was determined, among other factors, by the extent of the restoration of the rights of ownership and the limited material and financial capabilities of the state. While regulating, by means of laws, the restoration of the denied rights of ownership, it was necessary to take account of the fact that, during the years of occupation, other property, social and economic relations of people came into being, that there appeared other objective circumstances due to which it was impossible to completely restore the rights of ownership (to go back to status quo ante). While regulating the restoration of the denied rights of ownership, the legislator enjoys the discretion to establish the conditions and procedure for the restoration of the rights of ownership.

5.5. The unlawful actions of the occupation government inflicted enormous damage not only on the owners whose rights of ownership were denied but also on the whole society and the entire state; while restoring justice in regard of the owners, one cannot ignore justice in regard of the entire society whose members are also the owners as well; in the process of the restoration of the rights of ownership one must strive for a balance between the persons whose rights are being restored and the interests of the entire society (Constitutional Court rulings of 5 July 2007 and 4 July 2008).

5.6. The legislator, when he legislatively establishes the ways, conditions and procedure of restoration of the rights of ownership to the existing real property, is bound by the norms and principles of the Constitution, inter alia by Article 23 of the Constitution which establishes the protection of the rights of ownership, by Article 29 of the Constitution, which guarantees equality of rights of persons, and by the constitutional principle of a state under the rule of law, which encompasses legal clarity, legal certainty, legal security, protection of legitimate expectations and other requirements; the legislator is also bound by other norms and principles of the Constitution.

5.7. The fact that the state resolved that the denied rights of ownership have to be restored, also the fact that a law regulating restitution relations was adopted and that implementation of restoration of ownership rights was begun mean that the state took an obligation to restore the rights of ownership by the ways and under conditions and procedure established in the law also within the terms provided for in the law. While regulating the restoration of the rights of ownership to the existing real property, the legislator must take account of the constitutional principles of protection of property, as well as of the fact that in the course of restoring the rights of ownership to the existing real property it is necessary to protect also the other values entrenched in the Constitution, inter alia the striving for an open, just and harmonious civil society and to ensure that while restoring the ownership rights of certain persons, the owners, one does not violate the rights and legitimate interests of other persons as well as those of the entire society. In the process of restoration of the rights of ownership to the existing real property one must seek to attain a balance between the rights of the persons to whom the rights of ownership are being restored and those of the entire society (Constitutional Court ruling of 23 August 2005).

5.8. The constitutional imperatives of a harmonious, just and open civil society, the constitutional requirements of legal certainty, legal security and protection of legitimate expectations imply that the begun process of restitution may not be extended for an unreasonably long time; thus, the amendments of corresponding relations of the legal regulation cannot be such so that they would create preconditions to procrastinate this process for an unreasonably long period. Due to the unreasonably long time during which the rights of ownership to the existing real property are restored, the essence of the restitution institute itself can be distorted or even denied, the constitutional rights of ownership as well as other rights of the person can be violated and the trust of the people in the state and law can be undermined (Constitutional Court ruling of 5 July 2007).

6. As mentioned, in the constitutional justice case at issue, subsequent to the petitions of the petitioners, it is investigated whether the provision “Ownership rights to the real property <…> shall be restored to the <…> citizens of the Republic of Lithuania” of Paragraph 1 of Article 2 (wording of 14 October 2003) of the Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property (wording of 1 July 1997) and Paragraph 1 of Article 10 (wording of 12 October 2004) thereof, to the specified extent, are not in conflict with Articles 18, 23, and 29 of the Constitution and with the constitutional principles of justice and a state under the rule of law.

7. Article 18 of the Constitution provides that human rights and freedoms shall be innate.

The Constitutional Court has noted that the principle of recognition of the innate nature of human rights and freedoms is consolidated in Article 18 of the Constitution; in this article of the Constitution one does not specify particular innate human rights and freedoms—they are entrenched in other articles (parts thereof) of the Constitution (Constitutional Court ruling of 29 December 2004).

In the context of the constitutional justice case at issue it needs to be noted that one among innate rights of the human being is the right of ownership (Constitutional Court ruling of 23 August 2005).

8. The constitutional guarantee of protection of the rights of ownership is a status quo guarantee, since it, first of all, protects the rights of ownership enjoyed by the person. Until his property is restored or he is paid an appropriate compensation for it, the subjective rights of the former owner to a specific property are not restored yet. The legal meaning of the decision of the institution authorised by the state to restore property in kind or compensate for it is that only from this proper moment the former owner acquires the rights of ownership to such property. Until respective state institutions have not adopted a decision on the restoration of the rights of ownership, in reality, the persons to whom the rights of ownership are restored do not enjoy the subjective rights to the property which earlier belonged to them. After the rights of ownership have been restored, the norms of Article 23 of the Constitution are applied to the full extent for the protection of these rights. After an authorised state institution has adopted a decision to restore the rights of ownership to a person, this person acquires the rights of ownership which are protected and defended under Article 23 of the Constitution.

In the context of the constitutional justice case at issue it needs to be noted that the right of ownership as an innate right of a human being, in the sense of Article 23 of the Constitution, is not identical to the right of a citizen of the Republic of Lithuania to restore the rights of ownership to the existing real property under procedure established by the law.

9. In the context of the constitutional justice case at issue it also needs to be noted that the legislator, while regulating the restoration of the rights of ownership, enjoys discretion to establish inter alia the time limits for filing applications to restore the rights of ownership. While doing so, the legislator must take account of the fact that unreasonably long time limits of restoration of the rights of ownership to the existing real property, especially groundless prolongation thereof (inter alia multiple lengthening thereof), may distort the institute of restoration of the rights of ownership to the existing real property.

10. Article 29 of the Constitution prescribes:

All persons shall be equal before the law, the court, and other State institutions and officials.

The rights of the human being may not be restricted, nor may he be granted any privileges on the ground of gender, race, nationality, language, origin, social status, belief, convictions, or views.”

By means of the provision of Paragraph 1 of Article 29 of the Constitution, formal equality of all persons is entrenched. The constitutional principle of equality of all persons before the law requires that in law the main rights and duties be established equally to all (Constitutional Court rulings of 18 April 1994, 30 June 2000, 23 September 2008, 24 December 2008, and 2 March 2009).

The principle of equality of all persons also means that the same law or other legal act, the same measure, common and equal to all subjects of this category, must be applied to subjects of corresponding type of relations, to all persons (groups thereof) characteristic of the same features. The legal norms of substantive as well as of procedural law must be applied in equal manner (Constitutional Court ruling of 30 December 2003).

The compliance of a concrete legal norm with Article 29 of the Constitution may be assessed only by taking into account all significant circumstances (Constitutional Court rulings of 4 July 2003, 24 December 2008, and 2 March 2009).

11. As mentioned, the Constitutional Court has held more than once that the legislator, while establishing the conditions and procedure for restoration (restitution) of the rights of ownership to the existing real property, is bound inter alia by the constitutional principle of a state under the rule of law.

The constitutional principle of a state under the rule of law is especially capacious; it comprises a range of various interrelated imperatives. In its rulings the Constitutional Court has held more than once that the principle of a state under the rule of law entrenched in the Constitution implies, along other requirements, also that human rights and freedoms must be secured.

The Constitutional Court has also held that the content of the constitutional principle of a state under the rule of law is to be disclosed while taking account of the content of various other constitutional principles, including the principle of justice (which encompasses inter alia natural justice); disregard of the principle of justice which is entrenched in the Constitution would also mean disregard of the constitutional principle of a state under the rule of law (Constitutional Court ruling of 3 November 2005).

Thus, the constitutional principle of justice is an inseparable element of the constitutional principle of a state under the rule of law (Constitutional Court ruling of 29 November 2010).

12. Justice is one of the basic objectives of law, as the means of regulation of social relations; it is one of basic moral values and one of basic foundations of a state under the rule of law; it may be implemented by ensuring certain equilibrium of interests and by escaping fortuity and arbitrariness, instability of social life, and conflict of interests (Constitutional Court rulings of 22 December 1995, 6 December 2000, 17 March 2003, 17 November 2003, 3 December 2003, 24 December 2008, decision of 20 April 2010, rulings of 29 June 2010 and 29 November 2010).

13. In the context of the constitutional justice case at issue it needs to be noted that Paragraph 1 of Article 107 of the Constitution prescribes that a law (or part thereof) of the Republic of Lithuania or other act (or part thereof) of the Seimas, act of the President of the Republic, act (or part thereof) of the Government may not be applied from the day of official promulgation of the decision of the Constitutional Court that the act in question (or part thereof) is in conflict with the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania.

The Constitutional Court has noted that this provision of the Constitution means that until the Constitutional Court has not adopted a decision that the act in question (or part thereof) is in conflict with the Constitution, it is presumed that such a legal act (part thereof) is in compliance with the Constitution and that the legal effects that appeared on the basis of the act in question (part thereof) are legitimate (Constitutional Court ruling of 30 December 2003), whereas the legal regulation established therein is mandatory to subjects of legal relations (Constitutional Court rulings of 13 December 2004 and 20 February 2008).

14. In the context of the constitutional justice case at issue it needs to be mentioned that European Court of Human Rights in its 30 June 2009 decision as to admissibility in the case Boruch Shub v. Lithuania ((dec.), No. 17064/06, 30 June 2009) held that Article 1 of the First Protocol of the Convention (which inter alia prescribes: “Every natural or legal person is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of his possessions. No one shall be deprived if his possessions except in the public interest and subject to the conditions provided for by law and by the general principles of international law”) does not create any general obligation for the Contracting States to restore property which had been expropriated before they ratified the Convention, or as imposing any restrictions on their freedom to determine the scope and conditions of any property restitution to former owners; the person who was not entitled by the Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property to claim the restitution of the property because he did not meet the citizenship requirement, held no legitimate expectations to implement his rights of ownership (in the sense of “possession” within the meaning of Article 1 of the First Protocol of the Convention). In its aforesaid decision, the European Court of Human Rights also noted that there is no right to acquire citizenship under the Convention and that the Contracting States are free to determine the requirements of and procedures for citizenship requests.

III

On the compliance of the provision “Ownership rights to the real property <…> shall be restored to the <…> citizens of the Republic of Lithuania” of Paragraph 1 of Article 2 (wording of 14 October 2003) of the Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property, to the extent that it is established that the rights of ownership are restored only to citizens of the Republic of Lithuania, with Articles 18, 23, and 29 of the Constitution and with the constitutional principles of justice and a state under the rule of law.

1. It has been mentioned that in the constitutional justice case at issue it is investigated inter alia whether the provision “Ownership rights to the real property <…> shall be restored to the <…> citizens of the Republic of Lithuania” of Paragraph 1 of Article 2 (wording of 14 October 2003) of the Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property (wording of 1 July 1997), to the extent that it is established that the rights of ownership are restored only to citizens of the Republic of Lithuania, is not in conflict with Articles 18, 23, and 29 of the Constitution and with the constitutional principles of justice and a state under the rule of law.

2. In the context of the constitutional justice case at issue it is necessary first of all to elucidate how significant citizenship of the Republic of Lithuania was for the restoration (restitution) of the rights of ownership to the existing real property.

3. As mentioned, on 18 June 1991, the Supreme Council adopted the Law “On the Procedure and Conditions of Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property” and after this law had come into force, the implementation of the restoration of the rights of ownership to the existing real property began on 1 August 1991.

Article 2 (wording of 18 June 1991) titled “Citizens Entitled to Restoration of the Right of Ownership” of this law prescribed:

The right of ownership to the existing real property shall be restored:

1) to the former owner of the property, provided he is a citizen of Lithuania under the laws of the Republic of Lithuania and has a document certifying such citizenship, and permanently resides in the Republic of Lithuania;

2) upon the death of a former owner, to the children (or adopted children), parents (or foster parents), or spouse of the former owner, provided they are citizens of Lithuania under the laws of the Republic of Lithuania and have a document certifying such citizenship, and permanently reside in the Republic of Lithuania.”

4. Thus Article 2 (wording of 18 June 1991) of the Law “On the Procedure and Conditions of Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property” inter alia established what citizens are restored the rights of ownership to the exiting real property—namely all citizens of the Republic of Lithuania (the former owners and other claimants), who meet the requirements established in this law, inter alia the requirements to hold citizenship of the Republic of Lithuania under the valid laws of the Republic of Lithuania, to have a document certifying citizenship of the Republic of Lithuania, and to permanently reside in the Republic of Lithuania. Consequently, with regard to the persons (the former owners and other claimants) who did not meet these requirements the rights of ownership to the existing real property could not be restored under the said law.

Although Article 2 (wording of 18 June 1991) of the Law “On the Procedure and Conditions of Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property” was amended and/or supplemented more than once, the said requirements, i.e. to hold citizenship of the Republic of Lithuania under the valid laws of the Republic of Lithuania, to have a document certifying such citizenship, and to permanently reside in the Republic of Lithuania, remained unchanged.

5. It has also been mentioned that, on 1 July 1997, the Seimas adopted the Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property, which came into force (save Paragraph 7 of Article 21 thereof) on 9 July 1997. From the day when this law came into force, the Law “On the Procedure and Conditions of Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property” (wording of 18 June 1991 with subsequent amendments and supplements) became no longer valid.

Article 2 (wording of 1 June 1997) titled “Citizens Entitled to Restoration of the Rights of Ownership” of this law prescribed:

1. Ownership rights to the real property specified in Article 3 of this Law shall be restored to the following citizens of the Republic of Lithuania:

1) the owner of the property;

2) the persons to whom the dead owner of the property left his property by a will, irrespective of the fact that there is no evidence of the fact of devise of land or other real property;

3) the spouse, parents (foster parents), children (adopted children) of the owner of the property who died without making a will—to a share of the existing real property they are entitled whereto;

4) the spouse, children (adopted children) of the child (adopted child) of the owner of the property—to a share of the existing real property the deceased is entitled whereto.

2. Upon the death of the citizens specified in Items 1, 2, 3, and 4 of Paragraph 1 of this Article, who had filed applications for the restoration of the rights of ownership in due time, the rights of ownership shall be restored in the name of the deceased and transferred to the heir, provided the latter is a citizen of the Republic of Lithuania.

3. The citizens specified in Paragraph 1 of this Article may, by a notarised agreement, transfer the right to restore the rights of ownership to the existing real property to their children (adopted children), parents (foster parents), spouses, and grandchildren, provided they are citizens of the Republic of Lithuania.”

6. Thus Article 2 (wording of 1 June 1997) of the Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property inter alia established that the rights of ownership are restored only to citizens of the Republic of Lithuania (the former owners and other claimants who meet the requirements established in this law). The rights of ownership to the existing real property are not restored to persons who do not hold citizenship of the Republic of Lithuania.

Consequently, under the provision “Ownership rights to the real property <…> shall be restored to the <…> citizens of the Republic of Lithuania” of Paragraph 1 of Article 2 of the Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property (wording of 1 July 1997), all citizens Republic of Lithuania (the former owners and other claimants who meet the requirements established in this law), as subjects of relations of a corresponding kind—persons distinguished by the same features—were entitled to restoration of the rights of ownership to the existing real property.

7. Having compared the legal regulation established in Article 2 (wording of 18 June 1991 with subsequent amendments and/or supplements) of the Law “On the Procedure and Conditions of Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property” with the legal regulation established in Article 2 (wording of 1 July 1997 with subsequent amendments and/or supplements) of the Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property, it becomes clear that the said legal regulation has not changed in the aspect that the requirement to hold citizenship of the Republic of Lithuania remained with respect to all persons entitled to restoration (restitution) of the rights of ownership to the existing real property.

8. Article 2 of the Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property (wording of 1 July 1997) has been amended and/or supplemented more than once, however, the provision “Ownership rights to the real property <…> shall be restored to the <…> citizens of the Republic of Lithuania” of Paragraph 1 of the same article has not been amended and/or supplemented.

In this context it needs to be mentioned that, on 14 October 2003, the Seimas adopted the Republic of Lithuania Law on Amending and Supplementing Articles 2, 10, 12, 15, 17, 20, 21 of the Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property, by Article 1 whereof it supplemented Paragraph 1 of Article 2 of the Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property with Item 5.

After that Paragraph 1 of Article 2 (wording of 14 October 2003) of the Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property (wording of 1 July 1997) has not been amended and/or supplemented.

9. In this context it needs to be noted that the relations related to citizenship of the Republic of Lithuania, inter alia acquisition thereof, were regulated by a special law—the Law on Citizenship.

The legal regulation established in Paragraph 1 of Article 2 (wording of 14 October 2003) of the Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property (wording of 1 July 1997) is not (has never been) designed for regulation of the relations related to citizenship of the Republic of Lithuania, inter alia acquisition thereof.

10. While deciding whether the provision “Ownership rights to the real property <…> shall be restored to the <…> citizens of the Republic of Lithuania” of Paragraph 1 of Article 2 (wording of 14 October 2003) of the Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property (wording of 1 July 1997), to the extent that it is established that the rights of ownership are restored only to citizens of the Republic of Lithuania, is not in conflict with the Constitution, one is to note that, as mentioned:

Article 2 (wording of 1 June 1997) of the Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property inter alia established that the rights of ownership are restored only to citizens of the Republic of Lithuania (the former owners and other claimants who meet the requirements established in this law). The rights of ownership to the existing real property are not restored to persons who do not hold citizenship of the Republic of Lithuania;

even though Article 2 of the Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property (wording of 1 July 1997) has been amended and/or supplemented more than once, the provision “Ownership rights to the real property <…> shall be restored to the <…> citizens of the Republic of Lithuania” of Paragraph 1 of the same article has not been amended and/or supplemented.

11. It needs to be noted that the Constitutional Court has held that, as mentioned:

the State of Lithuania, while striving to restore justice in part at least, i.e. to restore the violated rights of ownership, chose restricted restitution, but not restitutio in integrum; such choice was determined, among other factors, by the extent of the restoration of the rights of ownership and the limited material and financial capabilities of the state;

Article 23 of the Constitution has entrenched the constitutional guarantee of protection of the right of ownership is a status quo guarantee, since it, first of all, protects the rights of ownership enjoyed by the person. Until his property is restored or he is paid an appropriate compensation for it, the subjective rights of the former owner to a specific property are not restored yet.

It also needs to be noted that the Constitutional Court, while assessing the Law “On the Procedure and Conditions of Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property”, has noted that “This Law helps to restore the rights of ownership which had been violated during the occupation, therefore, there is no legal ground to maintain that this Law in general infringes upon the inborn rights established in Article 18 of the Constitution” (ruling of 20 June 1995).

It has been held in this Constitutional Court ruling that the right of ownership as an innate right of a human being, in the sense of Article 23 of the Constitution, is not identical to the right of a citizen of the Republic of Lithuania to restore the rights of ownership to the existing real property under procedure established by the law.

12. Thus, there are no grounds to assert that the provision “Ownership rights to the real property <…> shall be restored to the <…> citizens of the Republic of Lithuania” of Paragraph 1 of Article 2 (wording of 14 October 2003) of the Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property (wording of 1 July 1997), to the extent that it is established that the rights of ownership are restored only to citizens of the Republic of Lithuania, deviates from Articles 18, 23 of the Constitution.

13. It also needs to be noted that, as mentioned, pursuant to the provision “Ownership rights to the real property <…> shall be restored to the <…> citizens of the Republic of Lithuania” (which is disputed to the aforementioned extent) of Paragraph 1 of Article 2 (wording of 14 October 2003) of the Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property (wording of 1 July 1997), all citizens Republic of Lithuania (the former owners and other claimants who meet the requirements established in this law), as subjects of relations of a corresponding kind—persons distinguished by the same features—were entitled to restoration of the rights of ownership to the existing real property.

Consequently, pursuant to the said provision of Paragraph 1 of Article 2 (wording of 14 October 2003) of the Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property (wording of 1 July 1997), the rights of ownership to the existing real property are restored in equal manner to all citizens of the Republic of Lithuania (the former owners and other claimants who meet the requirements established in this law).

14. It needs to be noted that, as mentioned, the Constitutional Court has held that the principle of equality of all persons also means that the same law or other legal act, the same measure, common and equal to all subjects of this category, must be applied to subjects of corresponding type of relations, to all persons (groups thereof) characteristic of the same features; the legal norms of substantive as well as of procedural law must be applied in equal manner.

15. Thus, there are no grounds to assert that the provision “Ownership rights to the real property <…> shall be restored to the <…> citizens of the Republic of Lithuania” of Paragraph 1 of Article 2 (wording of 14 October 2003) of the Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property (wording of 1 July 1997), to the extent that it is established that the rights of ownership are restored only to citizens of the Republic of Lithuania, deviates from Articles 18, 23 of the Constitution.

16. It is clear from the petitions of the petitioners that they substantiate the conflict of the said disputed legal regulation with the constitutional principles of justice and a state under the rule of law by the fact that such legal regulation deviates from the requirements arising from Articles 18, 23, 29 of the Constitution.

17. It has been held in this Constitutional Court ruling that there are no grounds to assert that the provision “Ownership rights to the real property <…> shall be restored to the <…> citizens of the Republic of Lithuania” of Paragraph 1 of Article 2 (wording of 14 October 2003) of the Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property (wording of 1 July 1997), to the extent that it is established that the rights of ownership are restored only to citizens of the Republic of Lithuania, deviates from Articles 18, 23 and 29 of the Constitution.

Having held this, on the grounds of the same arguments one is to hold that there are no grounds to assert that the provision “Ownership rights to the real property <…> shall be restored to the <…> citizens of the Republic of Lithuania” of Paragraph 1 of Article 2 (wording of 14 October 2003) of the Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property (wording of 1 July 1997), to the extent that it is established that the rights of ownership are restored only to citizens of the Republic of Lithuania, deviates from the constitutional principles of justice and a state under the rule of law.

18. Taking account of the arguments set forth, one is to draw a conclusion that the provision “Ownership rights to the real property <…> shall be restored to the <…> citizens of the Republic of Lithuania” of Paragraph 1 of Article 2 (wording of 14 October 2003) of the Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property (wording of 1 July 1997), to the extent that it is established that the rights of ownership are restored only to citizens of the Republic of Lithuania, is not in conflict with Articles 18, 23, and 29 of the Constitution and with the constitutional principles of justice and a state under the rule of law.

IV

On the compliance of Paragraph 1 of Article 10 (wording of 12 October 2004) of the Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property, to the extent that it is established that the rights of ownership are restored only to citizens of the Republic of Lithuania and only as regards citizens of the Republic of Lithuania who have omitted the prescribed time limit for reasons acknowledged by the court as valid, the omitted time limit may be renewed, with Articles 18, 23, and 29 of the Constitution.

1. It has been mentioned that in the constitutional justice case at issue it is also investigated whether Paragraph 1 of Article 10 (wording of 12 October 2004) of the Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property (wording of 1 July 1997), to the extent that it is established that the rights of ownership are restored only to citizens of the Republic of Lithuania and only as regards citizens of the Republic of Lithuania who have omitted the prescribed time limit for reasons acknowledged by the court as valid, the omitted time limit may be renewed, is not in conflict with Articles 18, 23, and 29 of the Constitution.

2. Article 10 “Procedure for Filing Applications for the Restoration of Ownership Rights” of the Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property (wording of 1 July 1997) prescribed:

1. The rights of ownership shall be restored to the citizens whose applications for the restoration of the rights of ownership have been filed within the period of time established by the Republic of Lithuania Law ‘On the Procedure and Conditions of Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property’. The rights of ownership to the existing real property of the citizens, whose application for the restoration of the rights of ownership were filed between 10 September 1993 and the day of suspension of the validity of the Republic of Lithuania Law ‘On the Procedure and Conditions of Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property’, shall be restored by giving back land, forest in kind or it shall be compensated in the ways provided for in the Republic of Lithuania Law on the Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property, except in cash, if the ownership rights to this property have not been restored to other citizens specified in Article 2 of this Law.

2. The citizens, who were not entitled to the restoration of the rights of ownership according to the Republic of Lithuania Law ‘On the Procedure and Conditions of Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property’ and who have acquired such right according to the Republic of Lithuania Law on the Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property, shall file applications for the restoration of the rights of ownership to the existing real property with the institution authorised by the Government prior to 31 December 1997. The rights of ownership of said citizens to the existing real property shall be restored, provided that the rights of ownership to this existing real property have not been restored to other persons specified in Article 2 of this Law.

3. Documents confirming citizenship as well as the rights of ownership and relation by blood or connection by marriage with the owner must be presented together with the application for the restoration of the rights of ownership. The Government shall establish the time limit for filing these documents.

4. The citizens who failed to file applications when due, shall forfeit the right to the restitution of the property according to this Law.”

3. Article 10 (wording of 1 July 1997) of the Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property has been amended and/or supplemented more than once.

4. On 3 August 2001, the Seimas adopted the Law on Amending and Supplementing Articles 2, 4, 6, 10, 12, 16, 21 of the Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property, by Article 7 whereof it set forth Article 10 of the Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property (wording of 1 July 1997) in a new wording.

5. Article 10 (wording of 3 August 2001) of the Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property (wording of 1 July 1997) has been amended and/or supplemented more than once.

6. On 12 October 2004, the Seimas adopted the Republic of Lithuania Law on Amending and Supplementing Article 10 of the Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property, by Article 1 whereof it set forth Article 10 (wording of 3 August 2001) of the Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property (wording of 1 July 1997) in a new wording.

7. Paragraph 1 of Article 10 (wording of 12 October 2004) of the Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property (wording of 1 July 1997), which is being disputed in the constitutional justice case at issue, prescribes:

The rights of ownership shall be restored to citizens whose applications for the restoration of the rights of ownership were filed within the time limits prescribed by Republic of Lithuania Law ‘On the Procedure and Conditions of Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property’ and in accordance with the procedure laid down in this Law before 31 December 2001. As regards those citizens who have omitted the prescribed time limit for reasons acknowledged by the court as valid, the time limit may be renewed.”

8. Thus, Paragraph 1 of Article 10 (wording of 12 October 2004) of the Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property (wording of 1 July 1997) provides that the rights of ownership are restored only to citizens of the Republic of Lithuania, if their applications for the restoration of the rights of ownership were filed prior to a certain time limit, which can be renewed by the court, if the said time limit was omitted due to valid reasons. The persons who do not hold citizenship of the Republic of Lithuania, the rights of ownership are not restored, such persons are not entitled to file applications for the restoration of the rights of ownership until the aforesaid time limit, whereas with regard to them no court may renew this time limit.

Consequently, all citizens of the Republic of Lithuania (the former owners and other claimants), as subjects of relations of a corresponding kind—persons distinguished by the same features, were entitled to file applications for the restoration of the rights of ownership until a certain time limit, which can be renewed by the court, if the said time limit was omitted due to valid reasons.

9. It needs to be noted that Paragraph 1 of Article 10 (wording of 12 October 2004) of the Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property (wording of 1 July 1997) has not been amended and/or supplemented.

10. In this context it needs to be noted that the relations related to citizenship of the Republic of Lithuania, inter alia acquisition thereof, were regulated by a special law—the Law on Citizenship.

The legal regulation established in Paragraph 1 of Article 10 (wording of 12 October 2004) of the Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property (wording of 1 July 1997) is not (has never been) designed for regulation of the relations related to citizenship of the Republic of Lithuania, inter alia acquisition thereof.

11. While deciding whether Paragraph 1 of Article 10 (wording of 12 October 2004) of the Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property (wording of 1 July 1997), to the extent that it is established that the rights of ownership are restored only to citizens of the Republic of Lithuania and only as regards citizens of the Republic of Lithuania who have omitted the prescribed time limit for reasons acknowledged by the court as valid, the omitted time limit may be renewed, is not in conflict with the Constitution, it needs to be noted that, as mentioned:

the rights of ownership are restored only to citizens of the Republic of Lithuania, if their applications for the restoration of the rights of ownership were filed prior to a certain time limit, which can be renewed by the court, if the said time limit was omitted due to valid reasons;

the persons who do not hold citizenship of the Republic of Lithuania, the rights of ownership are not restored, such persons are not entitled to file applications for the restoration of the rights of ownership until the aforesaid time limit, whereas with regard to them no court may renew this time limit.

12. It needs to be noted that the Constitutional Court has held that, as mentioned:

while regulating the restoration of the denied rights of ownership, the legislator enjoys the discretion to establish the conditions and procedure for the restoration of the rights of ownership;

the legislator also enjoys discretion to establish the time limits of filing of applications for the restoration of the rights of ownership;

the begun process of restitution may not be extended for an unreasonably long time; thus, the amendments of corresponding relations of the legal regulation cannot be such so that they would create preconditions to procrastinate this process for an unreasonably long period;

unreasonably long time limits of restoration of the rights of ownership to the existing real property, especially groundless prolongation thereof (inter alia multiple lengthening thereof), may distort the institute of restoration of the rights of ownership to the existing real property.

13. It also needs to be noted that Paragraph 1 of Article 10 (wording of 12 October 2004) of the Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property (wording of 1 July 1997), to the extent that it is established that the rights of ownership are restored only to citizens of the Republic of Lithuania and only as regards citizens of the Republic of Lithuania who have omitted the prescribed time limit for reasons acknowledged by the court as valid, the omitted time limit may be renewed, is inseparable from the provision “Ownership rights to the real property <…> shall be restored to the <…> citizens of the Republic of Lithuania” of Paragraph 1 of Article 2 (wording of 14 October 2003) of the Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property (wording of 1 July 1997).

It has been held in this Constitutional Court ruling that there are no grounds to assert that the provision “Ownership rights to the real property <…> shall be restored to the <…> citizens of the Republic of Lithuania” of Paragraph 1 of Article 2 (wording of 14 October 2003) of the Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property (wording of 1 July 1997), to the extent that it is established that the rights of ownership are restored only to citizens of the Republic of Lithuania, deviates from Articles 18, 23, 29 of the Constitution, the constitutional principles of justice and a state under the rule of law.

Having held this, on the grounds of the same arguments, one is also to hold that there are no grounds to assert that Paragraph 1 of Article 10 (wording of 12 October 2004) of the Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property (wording of 1 July 1997), to the extent that it is established that the rights of ownership are restored only to citizens of the Republic of Lithuania and only as regards citizens of the Republic of Lithuania who have omitted the prescribed time limit for reasons acknowledged by the court as valid, the omitted time limit may be renewed, deviates from Articles 18, 23, and 29 of the Constitution.

14. Taking account of the arguments set forth, one is to draw a conclusion that Paragraph 1 of Article 10 (wording of 12 October 2004) of the Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property (wording of 1 July 1997), to the extent that it is established that the rights of ownership are restored only to citizens of the Republic of Lithuania and only as regards citizens of the Republic of Lithuania who have omitted the prescribed time limit for reasons acknowledged by the court as valid, the omitted time limit may be renewed, is not in conflict with Articles 18, 23, and 29 of the Constitution.

Conforming to Articles 102 and 105 of the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania and Articles 1, 53, 54, 55 and 56 of the Law on the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Lithuania, the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Lithuania has passed the following

ruling:

1. To recognise that the provision “Ownership rights to the real property <…> shall be restored to the <…> citizens of the Republic of Lithuania” of Paragraph 1 of Article 2 (wording of 14 October 2003; Official Gazette Valstybės žinios, 2003, No. 101-4542) of the Republic of Lithuania Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property (wording of 1 July 1997; Official Gazette Valstybės žinios, 1997, No. 65-1558), to the extent that it is established that the rights of ownership are restored only to citizens of the Republic of Lithuania, is not in conflict with the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania.

2. To recognise that Paragraph 1 of Article 10 (wording of 12 October 2004; Official Gazette Valstybės žinios, 2004, No. 156-5695) of the Republic of Lithuania Law on Restoration of the Rights of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property (wording of 1 July 1997; Official Gazette Valstybės žinios, 1997, No. 65-1558), to the extent that it is established that the rights of ownership are restored only to citizens of the Republic of Lithuania and only as regards citizens of the Republic of Lithuania who have omitted the prescribed time limit for reasons acknowledged by the court as valid, the omitted time limit may be renewed, is not in conflict with the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania.

This ruling of the Constitutional Court is final and not subject to appeal.

The ruling is promulgated in the name of the Republic of Lithuania.

Justices of the Constitutional Court: Armanas Abramavičius
                                                                      Toma Birmontienė
                                                                      Pranas Kuconis
                                                                      Kęstutis Lapinskas
                                                                      Zenonas Namavičius
                                                                      Egidijus Šileikis
                                                                      Algirdas Taminskas
                                                                      Romualdas Kęstutis Urbaitis