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On providing the spouse of a deceased President of the Republic with housing under a loan-for-use agreement

The ruling of the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Lithuania of 15 December 2017

ON PROVIDING THE SPOUSE OF A DECEASED PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC WITH HOUSING UNDER A LOAN-FOR-USE AGREEMENT

Summary

By this ruling, having considered the case subsequent to the petition of the Government, the petitioner, the Constitutional Court declared unconstitutional Paragraph 4 of Article 23 of the Law on the President, which establishes the right of the spouse of the President of the Republic who is in office or upon the expiry of his/her office and where the President of the Republic dies, if he/she so desires, to be provided with housing (residential premises) under a loan-for-use agreement.

The Constitutional Court noted that the status of the Head of State is acquired for the period established in the Constitution only by one person, i.e. the President of the Republic, who is elected by citizens of the Republic of Lithuania. The legal status of the President of the Republic as the Head of State is an individual one and it differs from the legal status of all other citizens and state officials. The constitutional status of the Head of State includes, as its inseparable part, his/her constitutional social guarantees.

In this ruling, the Constitutional Court noted that the provision of Article 90 of the Constitution that the financing of the President of the Republic and of his/her residence is established by law consolidates the guarantee of the financing of the President of the Republic and of his/her residence; the purpose of this guarantee is to ensure that the President of the Republic is able to properly perform his/her duties, among other things, to properly represent the State of Lithuania. This constitutional guarantee means that the legislature has the duty to establish by law the financing necessary to perform the duties of the President of the Republic, which includes not only the financing of the activities and residence of an incumbent President of the Republic, but also proper financing, i.e., which is in line with the dignity and exceptional legal status of the President of the Republic as the Head of State, ensured for a former President of the Republic.

The Constitutional Court emphasised that the exclusive constitutional status of the President of the Republic as the Head of State also implies his/her exceptional material and social guarantees, differing from those granted to other state officials and all citizens, as well as the prohibition on equating, on the basis of these material (social) guarantees, some other person with an incumbent or former President of the Republic. Thus, Article 90 of the Constitution as interpreted in the light of the fact that, under the Constitution, the legal status of the President of the Republic is an individual one gives rise to a prohibition on establishing such a legal regulation that would create the legal preconditions, when ensuring the material (social) provision, among other things, connected with the financing of housing, to equate some other person, including the spouse of the President of the Republic, with a former President of the Republic. Article 90 of the Constitution does not establish any exclusive material and social guarantees for the spouse of the President of the Republic, which could be acquired on the basis of the status of the spouse upon the death of the President of the Republic.

According to the Constitutional Court, the impugned provision has created the legal preconditions, when ensuring the material (social) provision connected with the financing of housing, to equate the spouse of the President of the Republic with a President of the Republic whose powers have ceased, thus denying the constitutional status of the President of the Republic as the Head of State, differing from the legal status of all other persons; therefore, the said provision is in conflict with Article 90 of the Constitution.

When assessing the compliance of the impugned provision with Paragraph 2 of Article 29 of the Constitution and the constitutional principle of a state under the rule of law, the Constitutional Court noted that the Constitution does not protect and does not defend any such rights acquired by a person that are privileges in terms of their content; the defence and protection of privileges would mean the violation of the constitutional principle of the equality of the rights of persons and the provision of Paragraph 2 of Article 29 of the Constitution, which prohibits the granting of privileges, among other things, on the grounds of the social status of a person. As regards the material (social) provision of the spouse of the President of the Republic connected with the financing of housing, the following provisions (with the appropriate amendments) of the official constitutional doctrine of the equality of the rights of persons, which were formulated in the Constitutional Court’s ruling of 3 July 2014 (which assessed the constitutionality of the legal regulation that had established the state annuity of the widow(er) of the President of the Republic), are also applicable: the mere fact that a person is the widow(er) of a person who belonged to a group of persons with a certain social status (the distinction of which is objectively justified) and who, by virtue of that status, acquired the right to receive social assistance (pension) is not in itself a ground to objectively justify such a legal regulation that would consolidate the right of the said widow(er) to receive in the event of widowhood social assistance (pension) that would differ in substance from that ensured for the widow(er)s of other persons; the deceased person’s social status alone is not in itself a constitutionally justified ground to ensure for the widow(er) of that person social assistance of a much larger amount than that ensured for other widow(er)s.

In this ruling, the Constitutional Court held that that the laws of the Republic of Lithuania do not establish the right, which would be analogous to that of the spouse of the President of the Republic, to receive state property under a loan-for-use agreement for temporary gratuitous management and use; thus, the said material (social) guarantee is introduced by the impugned legal regulation solely because of the fact that a person becomes the spouse of the President of the Republic. Such a legal regulation is incompatible with Paragraph 2 of Article 29 of the Constitution, which prohibits the granting of privileges on grounds of the social status of a person, as well as with the constitutional principle of a state under the rule of law.