In the case of Vermeire v. Belgium*,
The European Court of Human Rights, sitting, in accordance with
Article 43 (art. 43) of the Convention for the Protection of Human
Rights and Fundamental Freedoms ("the Convention")** and the relevant
provisions of the Rules of Court, as a Chamber composed of the
Mr R. Ryssdal, President,
Mrs D. Bindschedler-Robert,
Mr B. Walsh,
Mr R. Macdonald,
Mr A. Spielmann,
Mr J. De Meyer,
Mr S.K. Martens,
Mr A.N. Loizou,
Mr J.M. Morenilla,
and also of Mr M.-A. Eissen, Registrar,
Having deliberated in private on 23 June and 24 September 1993,
Delivers the following judgment, which was adopted on the
Notes by the Registrar
* The case is numbered 44/1990/235/301. The first number is the case's
position on the list of cases referred to the Court in the relevant
year (second number). The last two numbers indicate the case's
position on the list of cases referred to the Court since its creation
and on the list of the corresponding originating applications to the
** As amended by Article 11 of Protocol No. 8 (P8-11), which came into
force on 1 January 1990.
1. The case was referred to the Court by the European Commission
of Human Rights ("the Commission") on 11 July 1990, within the
three-month period laid down by Article 32 para. 1 and Article 47
(art. 32-1, art. 47) of the Convention. It originated in an
application (no. 12849/87) against the Kingdom of Belgium lodged with
the Commission under Article 25 (art. 25) by a Belgian national,
Mrs Astrid Vermeire, on 1 April 1987.
2. For the facts of the case, reference should be made to the
judgment given on the merits on 29 November 1991 (Series A no. 214-C,
pp. 78-80, paras. 8-18). The applicant had complained that she had
been excluded from inheritance rights in the estates of her paternal
grandparents (Irma Van den Berghe and Camiel Vermeire) on account of
the "illegitimate" nature of the kinship between her and them. The
Court found that the Belgian State was not obliged to reopen her
grandmother's succession but that there had been a breach of Article 14
of the Convention taken together with Article 8 (art. 14+8) in respect
of her grandfather's succession.
3. By way of "just satisfaction", Mrs Vermeire sought compensation
for damage and reimbursement of costs and expenses. The Court held
that she had sustained pecuniary damage, but noted that the Belgian
Government ("the Government") disputed the information she had
supplied; furthermore, some of the costs claimed appeared liable to
revision in the light of the judgment on the merits.
The Court therefore reserved the question in whole and invited
the Government and the applicant to submit to it in writing within
three months their observations on the question and in particular to
communicate to it any agreement which they might reach (ibid., p. 84,
paras. 31-32 and point 3 of the operative provisions).
4. Attempts to reach a friendly settlement having failed, and in
accordance with the foregoing invitation and with the President's
directions, observations on the Article 50 (art. 50) claims were filed
by Mrs Vermeire on 12 March, 6 July and 10 September 1992, by the
Government on 27 May and 28 August 1992 and by the Delegate of the
Commission on 1 July 1992.
5. On 23 June 1993 the Court decided not to hold a hearing.
Subsequently Mr R. Macdonald, substitute judge, replaced
Mr Thór Vilhjálmsson, who was unable to take part in the further
consideration of the case (Rules 22 para. 1 and 24 para. 1).
RELEVANT DOMESTIC LAW
6. The relevant Belgian Civil Code provisions applicable at the
material time read as follows:
"Children or their issue shall inherit from their father and
mother, grandfathers, grandmothers or other ancestors,
irrespective of sex or primogeniture, and even if they are
born of different marriages.
"Any heir, even one whose liability for the deceased's debts
is limited to the amount of his inheritance, must bring into
account anything he may have received from the deceased by
gift inter vivos, directly or indirectly; he may not retain
gifts or claim legacies made to him by the deceased unless
such gifts and legacies have been made to him expressly in
addition to his share of the estate or with exemption from
bringing into account."
"Even where a gift or legacy has been made in addition to a
share of the estate or with exemption from bringing into
account, an heir claiming his share may retain it only up to
the amount of the disposable portion; the excess is subject to
"Gifts, whether inter vivos or testamentary, may not exceed
one-half of the donor's assets if at his death he leaves only
one legitimate child, one-third if he leaves two children or
one-quarter if he leaves three or more children."
"In the preceding Article 'children' shall also include
descendants of any degree; such descendants shall, however,
count only in respect of the child they represent in the
"Dispositions, whether inter vivos or testamentary, which
exceed the amount of the disposable portion shall be reducible
to that amount when the succession takes effect."
"The reduction is determined by bringing together all the
assets existing at the time of the donor's or testator's
death. This shall notionally include those that have been
disposed of by gifts inter vivos, according to their state at
the time of the gifts and their value at the time of the
donor's death. The disposable portion is calculated from all
these assets, having regard to the status of the heirs, once
the debts have been deducted."
7. Article 239 of the Income Tax Code provides in its first
"Taxpayers' returns concerning income tax on natural
persons, companies or non-residents shall be capable of being
raised against them for the purposes of determining
compensation or damages they claim from the State, provinces,
conurbations, federations of municipalities, municipalities
and other Belgian public bodies or institutions, in any court
where the amount of such compensation or damages depends
directly or indirectly on the amount of their profits or
AS TO THE LAW
8. Under Article 50 (art. 50) of the Convention,
"If the Court finds that a decision or a measure taken by a
legal authority or any other authority of a High Contracting
Party is completely or partially in conflict with the
obligations arising from the ... Convention, and if the
internal law of the said Party allows only partial reparation
to be made for the consequences of this decision or measure,
the decision of the Court shall, if necessary, afford just
satisfaction to the injured party."
A. Pecuniary damage
9. In its judgment of 29 November 1991 the Court held that
Mrs Vermeire had suffered pecuniary damage, the amount of which was
equivalent to the share of her grandfather's estate which she would
have obtained had she been his "legitimate" granddaughter; it added
that inheritance taxes and interest due would have to be taken into
account in calculating the compensation (Series A no. 214-C, p. 84,
10. In the light of the parties' observations, the Court notes the
(a) The declarations of inheritance relating to the estate of
Camiel Vermeire are not disputed; together they cover a sum of
17,698,610 Belgian francs (BEF).
(b) The applicant mentions a loan of BEF 100,000 that her
grandfather had granted to a Mr Jacques Lannoye and which he repaid to
Francine and Michel Vermeire after Camiel Vermeire's death. The
Government submitted firstly that the absence of any indication of the
date of the transaction suggested that it was concluded in the lifetime
of Mr and Mrs Camiel Vermeire, who were married under a regime of
community of after-acquired property; and secondly that even supposing
that the loan had been made after the wife's death, it could have been
an application of joint funds, to which the sum involved duly reverted.
Consequently only BEF 50,000 could be taken into account.
It seems reasonable to accept the Government's submission on
(c) The applicant further alleged that the deceased had assets
abroad; according to the documents adduced in evidence, they amounted
to BEF 13,645,952.
In the Government's view, Mrs Vermeire had not established that
she never inherited any of these sums or that her grandfather had been
the sole owner of them. Moreover, they had never been taxed in Belgium
in Camiel Vermeire's lifetime; Article 239 of the Income Tax Code (see
paragraph 7 above) thus prevented them from being added to the estate.
In the alternative, the Government said that if the heirs had declared
them at the grandfather's death, they would have been subject to tax
and would have given rise to a fine, which together would have amounted
to at least BEF 4,500,000.
The Court notes that under the Belgian law of succession the
assets in question formed part of the estate to be distributed.
However, having regard to the matrimonial regime of Mr and
Mrs Camiel Vermeire and for want of better particulars, only half of
them fall to be assigned to the grandfather's estate, that is
BEF 6,822,976. Article 239 of the Belgian Income Tax Code cannot be
raised to defeat a claim based solely on Article 50 (art. 50) of the
Convention, under which the Court takes its decision on equitable
principles. On the other hand, the taxes and fines that would have
been payable by the heirs at the deceased's death in respect of the
sums on which he evaded tax must be deducted. Adopting the figure put
forward by the Government, which was not disputed by the applicant, the
Court therefore assesses Camiel Vermeire's assets abroad at
(d) The applicant submitted, lastly, that her grandparents'
gifts to their son Robert had to be taken into account. These gifts
were of land, buildings and a business, with a total value of
BEF 6,613,500; the share to be included in Camiel Vermeire's estate
amounted to BEF 3,306,750.
The Court notes firstly, like the Government, that according
to the documentary evidence the land and buildings given were expressly
stated to be not subject to hotchpot; since also the applicant's
reserved portion was unaffected (Articles 843, 844, 913, 914, 920 and
922 of the Civil Code - see paragraph 6 above), they therefore did not
have to be included in the estate. As to the business, it does not
seem unreasonable to suppose that it was transferred gratuitously. The
Court determines its value at BEF 500,000, half of which - as those who
appeared before the Court agreed - forms part of the estate of
11. In all, that estate therefore amounts to BEF 22,571,586. That
being so, the applicant's share comes to BEF 11,285,793 (Article 745
of the Civil Code - see paragraph 6 above).
12. Inheritance tax of BEF 1,358,590 must be deducted from that
sum. The remainder thus amounts to BEF 9,927,203, to which must be
added BEF 12,265,308 in statutory interest, calculated at the various
rates applicable between 22 July 1980, the date of Camiel Vermeire's
death, and 30 September 1993.
13. Making its assessment on an equitable basis, the Court
consequently awards Mrs Vermeire BEF 22,192,511 in respect of pecuniary
damage, plus statutory interest from 1 October 1993.
B. Costs and expenses
14. The applicant also sought reimbursement of costs and expenses
in the amount of BEF 3,648,354, including BEF 3,160,086 for
Mr Van Hoecke's fees.
15. The Government considered that half of the claim - relating,
they said, to Irma Van den Berghe's estate and not Camiel Vermeire's -
should be discounted. As to the balance, they submitted that it
covered costs and fees relating to the realisation proceedings, which
were unconnected with the breach of the Convention. At all events,
many of the expenses were not justified and others should be borne by
16. The Court examined the question in the light of the principles
which emerge from its case-law.
It notes that the applicant's rights in respect of the two
estates in issue were determined in a single set of proceedings
(judgment on the merits, p. 78, paras. 9-12). The whole of the costs
and expenses incurred by the applicant must therefore be taken into
The Court does, however, consider the fees excessive, having
regard in particular to the sum awarded in respect of the pecuniary
Making its assessment on an equitable basis, it awards
BEF 2,000,000 in respect of costs and expenses.
FOR THESE REASONS, THE COURT UNANIMOUSLY
1. Holds that Belgium is to pay the applicant within three months
22,192,511 (twenty-two million one hundred and ninety-two
thousand five hundred and eleven) Belgian francs in respect of
damage, plus statutory interest from 1 October 1993, plus
2,000,000 (two million) Belgian francs in respect of costs and
2. Dismisses the remainder of the claim for just satisfaction.
Done in English and in French and notified in writing on
4 October 1993 pursuant to Rule 55 para. 2, second sub-paragraph, of
the Rules of Court.
Signed: Rolv RYSSDAL
Signed: Marc-André EISSEN