A noble cause: A case study of discrimination, symbols and reciprocity

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Abstract

Introduction in De La Cierva Osorio De Moscoso v. Spain, four Spanish women challenged the succession rule of nobility titles in their country in an application to the European Court of Human Rights (hereinafter ECHR). The rule in question gives precedence to male heirs of the title, such that women inherit the title only if there are no male heirs. All applicants were the oldest offspring of the deceased title-bearer, and would have inherited the title had they not been women: their younger male relatives (mostly siblings) won the titles. The applicants argued that this rule had violated their right to private and family life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (hereinafter ‘the Convention’), taken together with the prohibition of discrimination laid down in Article 14. The applicants also based their claim on Article 1 of Protocol 1 to the Convention, which protects the right to peaceful enjoyment of one’s possessions. The ECHR accepted Spain’s reasoning and declared the complaint inadmissible. Two reasons lead me to discuss this case in a volume dedicated to diversity. First, the case raises the question of accessibility of symbols of prestige to traditionally discriminated social groups. Spain replied to the ECHR that the applicants’ claim should be rejected since nobility titles do not fall under Article 8 because they have long lost their actual importance in determining one’s social rank, property, wealth, or legal status, and remain merely a symbolic relic of bygone times. As such, nobility titles are not a material part of the right protected in Article 8 (i.e. they do not shape one’s sense of affiliation with one’s family as names do). This argument is intriguing because it raises questions about the intersections between law and semiotics.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDiversity and European Human Rights
Subtitle of host publicationRewriting Judgments of the ECHR
PublisherCambridge University Press
Pages121-147
Number of pages27
Volume9781107026605
ISBN (Electronic)9781139208130
ISBN (Print)9781107026605
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2009

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