292: Dismissal of a teacher for giving classes in Serbian breached the European Convention
In the case of Novakovic v Croatia, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has held that dismissing a teacher for teaching in the Serbian language rather than Croatian breached his right to respect for private life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
Mr Novakovic was a Serb who taught at a secondary school in an area which had been reintegrated into Croatian territory after the war. He was dismissed for giving his classes in Serbian rather than Croatian. The school considered that, at 55 years old, he was too old to retrain to learn Croatian. Having been unsuccessful in challenging his dismissal in the Croatian courts, Mr Novakovic lodged a claim in the ECtHR.
The ECtHR ruled that the reasons for Mr Novakovic’s dismissal, namely the use of Serbian at work and his alleged inability to retrain due to his age, were sufficiently linked to his private life to come within Article 8 of the ECHR and awarded him compensation. The language used by an individual forms part of an individual’s ethnic identity, and age is part of their physical identity.
The school argued that Mr Novakovic’s dismissal was necessary to protect the right of pupils to be educated in the Croatian language. However, the ECtHR ruled that the school’s approach was not proportionate since it had failed to consider alternatives to dismissal. The school had relied on Mr Novakovic’s age and failed to provide sufficient reasons why he could not have improved his Croatian language skills through additional training.
Article 8 applied here because the reasons for the teacher’s dismissal were closely related to his ethnic origin and age. This case is consistent with previous European case law which has established that the concept of private life under the ECHR is broad and covers physical and social identity.