EU human rights court rules Czech state denied Kinský fair trial in property restitution case

František Oldřich Kinský, foto: ČTK

The European Court of Human Rights denounced the Czech state for having denied a fair trial to František Oldřich Kinský, an Austrian aristocrat who sued the country over his property claims. The court said that Mr Kinský, who passed away nearly three years ago, had been subjected to abusive treatment by the Czech authorities when he sued to get back family property worth around 40 billion crowns.

František Oldřich Kinský, photo: CTK
The Strasbourg court criticized Czech politicians for having interfered with the court proceedings of Mr Kinský who sued the state to get back some 40 billion crowns of his family property confiscated by the state after the end of the WWII under the so-called Beneš decrees.

The judges criticized several Czech politicians, including then MP, now Prime Minister Petr Nečas, for their out-of-place remarks on the case.

Under the verdict, the Czech Republic has to pay some 334,000 crowns to Mr Kinský’s heirs in compensation and court expenses. But as Justice Minister Jiří Pospíšil points out, the court’s ruling will have no effect on the actual case.

“The court in Strasbourg did not deal with Mr Kinský’s property claims. That was not the merit of the case. The issue was whether or not the principles of fair trial were upheld. The court did not even question the Czech restitution law which applies to property claims. The verdict therefore does not cast any doubt on how restitution cases are handled in the Czech Republic.”

Jiří Pospíšil
Mr. Kinský’s vast family property included several chateaux, a palace in Prague as well as extensive fields and forests. It was confiscated in 1945 on the basis of legislation known as the Beneš decrees which expropriated possessions of all German-speaking inhabitants of Czechoslovakia unless they could prove they took part in the anti-Nazi resistance.

However, Mr Kinský who died in April 2009 aged 72, claimed the confiscation was illegal. He argued that he was the rightful owner of the estates at the age of eight, and that his ethnicity was registered as Czech. But most of Mr Kinský’s claims were rejected by Czech courts and the nobleman only received a fraction of the property he was trying to reclaim.

The European Court of Human Rights also slammed the Czech authorities for having launched criminal proceedings against Mr Kinský during the course of his legal action against the Czech state. In addition, the court noted that a close supervision of the case by the country’s Justice Ministry could have influenced rulings. The Czech state now has three months to appeal the verdict.

Attorney Jaroslav Čapek, who represented Mr Kinský in the Czech courts nevertheless welcomed the verdict.

The Kinský Palace in Prague
“I am really happy about the ruling. It gives me great satisfaction after all those years of arguments. I kept notifying Czech courts on all levels that they had infringed on Mr Kinský’s right to a fair trial according to the European Convention on Human Rights. As you can see, I was right. The court has now confirmed it, and I’m glad that it happened.”

František Oldřich Kinský’s lawsuits against the Czech Republic were considered crucial by the authorities as his success would inevitably lead to claims by thousands of former Czechoslovak citizens and their heirs who lost their property under similar circumstances.