Bączkowski and Others v. Poland  | 2007

Better protections for peaceful demonstrations after protest was banned

Not only is democracy a fundamental feature of the European public order but the Convention was designed to promote and maintain the ideals and values of a democratic society.

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, May 2007 - Pictured: Yga Kostrzewa © Photo: Council of Europe


Five members of an NGO wanted to organise public gatherings in Warsaw. The aim was to draw public attention to discrimination against women, minorities and the disabled.

However, the mayor of the city gave an interview saying that the assemblies would be banned, because they included support for gay rights. His office then refused permission for the gatherings, in a series of decisions relying on administrative technicalities.

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights

The European court ruled that the decisions to ban the different marches in Warsaw had either been against Polish law or had been based on laws which failed to protect the protestors’ rights. In both cases, the right to public assembly had been violated. The decisions risked having a chilling effect on people taking part in public life.


The European court’s judgment triggered changes to the Polish Law of Assemblies. The case-law of the Constitutional Court developed, so that the administrative laws applied by the Warsaw mayor’s office in this case could not be used to ban peaceful protests in future. A new Assemblies Act was passed in 2015, with the aim of protecting the right to hold peaceful assemblies in Poland. 


Related examples

Historic ruling ends ban on gay people serving in the armed forces

Jeanette Smith, Graeme Grady, Duncan Lustig-Prean and John Beckett were all investigated and dismissed from the armed forces because they were gay. The European court ruled that the UK was unable to justify this policy and that its actions against the service members had violated their rights. In response to the judgment, the UK lifted the ban on gay people serving in the military.

Read more

Legal aid system introduced after woman suffering from domestic violence was unable to access the courts

Mrs Airey wanted to be legally separated from her husband, who was allegedly a violent alcoholic. However, there was no legal aid and she could not afford the lawyers’ fees. The European Court of Human Rights ruled that the lack of legal aid effectively denied Mrs Airey access to a court, breaching her basic rights. Legal aid for such cases was introduced in Ireland in the following year.

Read more

Man’s struggle leads to the legalisation of homosexuality in Ireland

David Norris suffered from anxiety attacks and depression after realising that any open expression of his homosexuality could lead to a criminal prosecution. The European court ruled that the criminalisation of his sexuality breached his basic rights. In 1993, this led to the full legalisation of homosexual acts between consenting adults under Irish law.

Read more