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Paun Jovanović v. Serbia, No. 41394/15, ECtHR (Fourth Section), 7 February 2023


Discrimination against a lawyer for using an official variant of the Serbian language in a criminal proceeding.

Normative references

Art. 1 of Protocol No. 12 to the Convention


1.    While “language” has specifically been mentioned as a ground of distinction in Article 1 of Protocol No. 12 to the Convention, an officially recognised variant thereof is likewise and by implication covered by the same “status”.

2.    It is legitimate for a State Party to the Convention to regulate matters involving the official use of languages in court proceedings. However, if a State recognizes two variants of the same language as official, preventing a lawyer from using one of them to question a witness in a proceeding is discriminatory.

(In the instant case, the applicant, a practising lawyer and an Ijekavian speaker of the Serbian language of Montenegrin origins, complained that he had suffered discrimination compared to a lawyer who was a speaker of the Ekavian variant of the same language in the course of the same criminal proceeding. Specifically, he argued that the judge had prevented him from asking questions in Ijekavian to a witness. Taking into consideration the transcript of the hearing, the Court found that the applicant was treated differently from the Ekavian speaking lawyer, although the two lawyers had to be considered persons in an analogous situation. Since the Serbian language has two equal variants – that is Ekavian and Ijekavian – that can be used officially, the Court did not find any reasonable justification for the discriminatory treatment of the applicant. Accordingly, it found a violation of Article 1 of Protocol No.12 to the Convention).