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The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has held in Novaković v Croatia that the dismissal of a teacher for teaching in Serbian rather than Croatian was a breach of his Article 8 right to respect for private life.

The teacher was dismissed because the school considered that, at the age of 55, he was too old to retrain. The ECtHR held that Article 8 applied because the reasons for the teacher's dismissal were closely related to his ethnic origin and age.  It held that the concept of private life is a broad one and covers an individual's physical and social identity. Previous European case law has established that language is part of a person's ethnic identity which is an essential aspect of their private life, and also that age forms part of a person's physical identity. It has also established that employment disputes were not excluded from the scope of private life.

The school argued that it had a legitimate aim in that it wanted to protect the rights of pupils to be educated in the Croatian language. However, the required teaching language in the school was not clear cut and the teacher inspection which ultimately led to the dismissal was only carried out in respect of Serbian teachers.

The ECtHR found that the school had failed to consider alternatives to the teacher's dismissal, even though Croatian law made provision for this. It also failed to provide relevant reasons why the teacher could not be expected to improve his language skills through additional training.

Take note: The decision in Novaković affirms that both ethnic origin and age can fall within the remit of the Article 8 protection for a person's right to a private life.  In this instance the teacher's Article 8 right had clearly been breached as the reasons for his dismissal were related to both his ethnic origin and his age.