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11 December 1997
PE 223.630/fin. A4-0408/97
on cults in the European Union
Committee on Civil Liberties and Internal Affairs
Rapporteur: Mrs Maria Berger
By letter of 18 February 1997 the Committee on Civil Liberties and Internal Affairs requested authorization to draw up a report on cults in the European Union.

 By letter of 18 February 1997 the Committee on Civil Liberties and Internal Affairs requested authorization to draw up a report on cults in the European Union.

At the sitting of 14 March 1997 the President of Parliament announced that the Conference of Presidents had authorized the committee to report on this subject.

At its meeting of 22 April 1997 the committee appointed Mrs Maria Berger rapporteur.

The committee considered the draft report at its meetings of 8 July 1997, 29 September 1997, 28 October 1997, 4 November 1997 and 8 December 1997.

At the last meeting it adopted the motion for a resolution by 15 votes to 7, with 3 abstentions.

The following took part in the vote: d'Ancona, chairman; Reding, vice-chairman; Wiebenga, vicechairman; Berger, rapporteur; Bontempi, Caccavale (for Schaffner), De Luca, Deprez, Ford, Goerens, Gomolka (for Posselt), Hallam (for Crawley, pursuant to Rule 138(2)), Lambrias (for Colombo Svevo), Lindperg, Marinho, Mohamed Ali, Nassauer, Oostlander (for Cederschiöld), Pailler (for Vinci), Pirker, Pradier, G. Schmid, Schulz, Van Lancker (for Terron I Cusi) and Zimmermann.

The report was tabled on 11 December 1997.

The deadline for tabling amendments will be indicated in the draft agenda for the relevant partsession.


Resolution on cults in the European Union

The European Parliament,

- having regard to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms,

- having regard to the United Nations Declaration of 25 November 1981 on the Elimination of all Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination based on Religion or Belief,

- having regard to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child,

- having regard to the recommendation of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly of 5 February 1992 on cults and new religious movements,

- having regard to the report of 20 December 1995 by the Committee of Inquiry set up by the French National Assembly on cults in France,

- having regard to the report of 28 April 1997 of the committee set up by the Belgian Chamber of Representatives on combating the illegal practices of cults and the dangers they present to society and the public, particularly minors,

- having regard to the interim report by the German Parliament Committee of Inquiry into "Socalled Cults and Psycho-Groups',

- having regard to the Treaty on European Union, particularly Title VI, Article F and Article 129a, etc.,

- having regard to its resolution of 22 May 1984 on a common approach by the Member States of the European Community towards various infringements of the law by the new organizations operating under the protection afforded to religious bodies(1),

- having regard to its resolution of 8 July 1992 on a European Charter of Rights of the Child(2),

- having regard to its resolution of 29 February 1996 on cults in Europe(3),

- having regard to its resolution of 8 April 1997 on human rights in the European Union(4),

- having regard to Rule 148 of its Rules of Procedure,

- having regard to the report by the Committee on Civil Liberties and Internal Affairs


A. whereas the joint meeting of the Committee on Civil Liberties and Internal Affairs and representatives of the national parliaments held on 21 November 1996 confirmed and updated the information available to Parliament at the time of its resolutions of 22 May 1984 and 29 February 1996 and proposed certain recommendations for action,

B. whereas no further action has been taken on the recommendations in these resolutions to the Council and Commission, according to the information supplied by the Council and Commission,

C. whereas there is no legal definition of a 'cult' and, as in the resolution of 29 February 1996, the term does not carry any value judgement, and whereas the legal position with regard to State recognition of religious groups and cults varies greatly between the Member States, and whereas the formation of a cult is one of the fundamental freedoms of religion, conscience, thought and assembly,

D. whereas, therefore, any recommendation for action must concern only the problematic aspects and any risks connected with the activity of certain cults, if they affect a person's physical and mental integrity or the social and financial standing, and whereas such behaviour must be the subject of intervention within all other kinds of organization, whether religious or not,

E. whereas, for the reasons given under C and D and because such groups can emerge and disappear quickly, Parliament should not undertake to draw up a list of cults,

F. whereas the recommendations in the above resolutions to the Member States, together with national developments in some Member States, have led to increased information, education and advisory activities and in three Member States detailed investigations have been and are being conducted at national parliamentary level, resulting in reports and an interim report,

G. whereas State authorities can regard the existence of cults as problematic only when they threaten public order and/or the standard civil liberties, and whereas the representatives of national parliaments in most Member States regard the existence and activities of cults in their Member State as insignificant or unproblematic,

H. whereas only one Member State has conducted a representative survey on membership of or connection with cults and this survey produced very low figures, from which it may be assumed that these figures are not significantly exceeded in any other Member State,

I. whereas all Member States attach great importance to preserving the fundamental rights of freedom of religion, conscience and belief, freedom of opinion and freedom of association and assembly and whereas it is the task of legislative bodies and the courts to settle any conflict with other fundamental rights,

J. whereas in many Member States there is a worrying trend to discourage or prohibit cult members from working in the civil service,

K. whereas most Member States regard the present legal instruments as sufficient and the joint meeting unanimously rejected specific anti-cult legislation, but whereas the joint meeting also stressed that sufficient use was not made of the present legal instruments to combat criminal activities or breaches of tax or social security laws,

L. whereas the attraction of cults should be seen as the symptom of a profound social, moral and civic disquiet and in the light of a longing for a meaning and purpose in life, which for some people in today's scientific and technological society marked by individualism and the erosion of the traditional social fabric is no longer being satisfied by the traditional churches,

M. whereas the demands of today's work environment create a favourable climate for services offering help to overcome perceived individual failings or personality faults,

N. whereas the potential dangers of many cults primarily affect individuals, including young people, possibly damaging their mental and physical integrity or their social and financial standing, and whereas at present and on the basis of the available information there is no reason to fear that the firmly-established democratic institutions based on the rule of law in all the Member States are in immediate danger,

O. noting, nevertheless, the tragic events directly involving cults which have taken place in several countries and in particular France, Switzerland, Canada and Japan and which have involved cases of mass suicides of men, women and their children; whereas these facts cannot be ignored,

P. whereas priority should therefore be given to protecting individuals, including in their capacity as consumers through information, education and advice,

Q. whereas there is a need for objective information, particularly in schools on the problematic practices of some cults, but whereas State agencies or those supported by the State, in accordance with their constitutional position in each country, should refrain from adopting a biased attitude when providing information, education and advice, allowing individuals to make a well-informed and independent choice and providing help if they wish to leave a cult,

R. whereas detailed analysis and critical discussion of the teachings and philosophies of cults and the methods they use, as long as these are not illegal, presents a social and political challenge to which the recognized churches and religious communities, the political parties, consumer protection organizations and those supporting families and young people must respond and whereas if particular economic sectors and enterprises are affected, employers' and workers' organizations are also called upon to deal with this issue,

S. whereas State and private agencies need an international network to support their informational, educational and advisory activities,

T. whereas this task cannot be undertaken by Europol, as it is not within its general remit, although Europol has a central role to play in combating criminal activities in the context of its current mandate which may be extended pursuant to Article 2(2) of the Convention,

U. whereas, in view of the very different degrees to which this topic is regarded as a problem in the Member States and the present lack of a quantitative and qualitative basis for a common European policy, there are at present not sufficient grounds for setting up a special EU agency on the problem of cults,

V. whereas, however, with regard to the commercial services which cults may offer on the "psychological services" market, consumers should be protected against abuses, there may be loopholes in consumer protection laws at European level which should be scrutinized, and if necessary the present rules should be extended,

W. whereas Member States' activities on problems which are not consumer protection issues could be coordinated in the context of cooperation under Title VI of the TEU,

X. whereas there is continuing concern that the activities of cults and the possible dangers associated with them may be increasing and therefore a Europe-wide survey of quantitative data and more detailed investigation into these phenomena appears desirable and justified,

Y. whereas the Central and Eastern European countries now also increasingly face the problem of cults, and whereas these measures should also be extended to them and they should be helped in the context of PHARE and TACIS to deal with such problems in a way which is compatible with fundamental rights,

1. Stresses the importance of cooperation between the Member States, calls once more on the Council and Commission to act on Parliament's recommendations to them in its resolutions of 22 May 1984 and 29 February 1996, as the joint meeting on cults of the Committee on Civil Liberties and Internal Affairs and representatives of the national parliaments has confirmed and updated the information available at the time of those resolutions, and affirms once more that freedom of thought, conscience and religion and freedom of assembly are fundamental rights of a democratic State;

2. Calls on the Member States and the European institutions to take action only on the problematic aspects of cults and in connection with their specific activities, if they affect people's physical and mental integrity or social and financial standing, taking action also when such behaviour occurs in other types of organization, whether religious or not, while fully respecting fundamental civil rights;

3. Calls on the Member States to lay down and maintain a number of stable criteria and minimum requirements in their policies for aid and subsidies, within the scope of their competence, in order to ensure the correct application of these subsidies for their lawful ends, and scrupulous compliance with all the legally established conditions;

4. Calls on the Member States to apply penalties to members of cults only in relation to their individual illegal activities;

5. Calls on those Member States where complaints over certain undesirable or problematic activities of cults are frequently being voiced to provide unbiased information, education and advice services, particularly for young people and families, to enable individuals to make a free and informed choice, and to provide support structures for those wishing to leave cults and for their families;

6. Calls on the Member States to apply existing legal provisions and instruments effectively and to ascertain whether there is sufficient provision, particularly in the areas of the law on associations, corporation law, tax and social security law and criminal law, to protect the public from unlawful activities and in particular to ensure that minors whose parents are members of cults are not cut off from the application of provisions intended for the protection of young people, such as those on welfare and education; reaffirms, however, that it considers inappropriate any specific legislation against cults as such;

7. Calls on the Commission, in the context of its competence in the area of consumer protection, to investigate whether consumers need protection from abuse in connection with the commercial services which cults may offer in the "psychological services' market and whether there are loopholes in European consumer protection law and if so, how these could be closed as a matter of urgency;

8. Calls on the Council and the Member States to consider whether, under Title VI of the TEU, support can be provided for the activities of information, education and advice centres in the Member States which require international cooperation and which come within the remit of Title VI, in particular, exchanges of information on names, methods and ramifications and with a view to finding missing persons;

9. Calls on the Commission or Eurostat to conduct a Europe-wide survey, including the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, of quantitative data on the phenomenon of cults and to invite those Member States which have no statistical data to collect such information;

10. Calls on the NGOs specialized in the protection of human rights to launch and support information and advice activities to enable every individual to choose freely on membership of any cult or new religious movement and in any case to enable the individual to leave freely when he or she so decides;

11. Calls on the Commission and the Member States to provide help in the context of PHARE and TACIS to enable the countries of Central and Eastern Europe to deal with cults in a way which is compatible with fundamental rights and to set up institutions providing information, education and advice;

12. Apart from these measures, sees at present no need or justification to introduce a common European policy against cults or to set up a special European agency;

13. Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council, the Commission, the governments and parliaments of the Member States and the Council of Europe.

(1)() OJ C 172, 2.7.1984, p. 41.
(2)() OJ C 241, 21.9.1992, p. 67.
(3)() OJ C 78, 18.3.1996, p. 31.
(4)() Minutes of the sitting of 8 April 1997.



In its resolution on cults in Europe of 29 February 1996(1), Parliament instructed its Committee on Civil Liberties and Internal Affairs to propose to the corresponding committees of the national parliaments that their next joint meeting be devoted to the subject of cults and to submit the conclusions of this meeting to the Plenary in the form of a report. This report is the result.

In particular the Plenary instructed the Committee on Civil Liberties and Internal Affairs that the joint meeting should endeavour:

- to exchange information on the organization, working methods and conduct of cults in each Member State,

- to draw conclusions on the best way to restrain their undesirable activities and on strategies to raise public awareness of them.

A detailed record of the contributions to the joint meeting of Parliament's Committee on Civil Liberties and Internal Affairs and representatives of the corresponding national parliamentary committees, held on 21 November 1996 in Brussels, is attached to this report as a working document. An additional working document drawn up by the Committee secretariat provides further information.

For the purposes of this report the conclusions can be summarized as follows.


As had been clear on the occasion of earlier Parliament debates, the use of the term 'cults' itself gave rise to uncertainty and disagreement. This was mainly because in many Member States and in some of the Union's official languages the word had negative connotations and, because of insufficient differentiation, was considered discriminatory. Parliament's resolution of 22 May 1984(2) refers to new organizations operating under the protection afforded to religious bodies. During the joint discussion the alternative or additional use of the term "new religious movements" was proposed, which however one participant considered equally discriminatory. The German Bundestag had set up a committee of inquiry into "so-called cults and psycho-groups". The Belgian Chamber of Representatives" investigative report of 28 April 1997 drew a distinction between 'cults in the strict sense', harmful cult organizations and fraudulent organizations masquerading as cults. The French National Assembly investigative report of 20 December 1995 used the expression "cult", following the practice of the French intelligence services for any organization exhibiting at least one of ten "potential danger criteria". Just as there is no clear definition of the term "cult" in everyday speech, national laws contain no legal definition of the concept. Following the text of Parliament's resolution of 29 February 1996, this statement simply uses the term "cults", as this concept is not used in a discriminatory way in the resolution and should be understood similarly in this report. In any case no conclusions are drawn arising solely from the concept of cults.

Constitutional position

The constitutional traditions of all the Member States attach great importance to freedom of religion, conscience and belief and of association and assembly. The basic right to religious freedom can be restricted by the legislative authorities either not at all (Sweden) or only under very limited conditions. However, none of the Member States exempts religious communities, churches and cults and their members from the application of general laws or gives a lower priority to other basic rights (e.g. protection of personal freedom and physical integrity) or other constitutional values than to freedom of religion. The question of which groups are legitimately entitled to protection in the context of religious freedom and the settlement of conflicts with basic civil rights are occasionally referred to the courts.

Types of organization

Some Member States allow religious communities which fulfil certain criteria special legal status, bound up with various special rights (e.g. internal autonomy, tax advantages, tax free status, religious teaching in State schools, the right to found their own schools with or without State support, the right to keep public registers, etc.) (See DG IV working document). Groups which are not entitled to this special status, or whose national legislation does not recognize special status, are normally organized as associations and usually aim to be classified as charitable organizations ('sans but lucratif') or similar, depending on the provisions of national legislation. Within this general legal framework the organizations are free to determine their own internal organization. In the literature on this subject and also for example in the French National Assembly report a particular characteristic of cults is considered to be a strict hierarchical structure. Larger groups such as Scientology or the Unification Church (Moonies) set up a broad network of subsidiary organizations with particular responsibilities.

The national representatives gave the following information with regard to the type, number and extent of cults, but in view of the fact that in all the Member States this data is unsubstantiated (e.g. supplied by the cults themselves) and in view of different understandings of the concept, it should be regarded only as a rough indicator of the size of the phenomenon:

Greece: no specific figures, no significant problems with cults, the only cult named as broadly known was the Jehovah"s Witnesses.

Sweden: no specific information.

Portugal: no specific information, no significant difficulties, a cult originating in Brazil had recently gained a certain amount of notoriety.

Austria: 50 000 people belong to a cult, 200 000 have some kind of connection to movements of this type.

Netherlands: no specific information, a 1984 report concluded that there were no significant problems.

Italy: There are 400 'new religious movements', affecting 600 000 people; the Jehovah"s Witnesses were named as the largest group.

United Kingdom: no specific information, the problem is not regarded as serious, a study into the influence of Freemasons in politics and law is being considered.

Spain: there are 40 to 50 cults, the number of members is unknown. A recent publication(3) gives a figure of 300 to 600 cults with 150 000 to 300 000 members. A report by a Congress committee gives a figure of 700 000 young people as having some connection with cults.

Germany: no specific information, but cults are spreading. The representative survey(4) commissioned by the German Bundestag Committee of Inquiry gave as its highest estimate 820 000 people belonging to or having links with a new religious or philosophical movement. As, however, there was so little information on the names of the groups to which those surveyed belonged or were connected, it was not possible to provide membership numbers for each particular group. The Committee of Inquiry declined to classify groups on the basis of the information they themselves supplied. Apart from current or previous membership or connection, 1.7% admitted to having attended at least once in their lives events organized by new religious or philosophical movements or having participated in the activities they offered such as meditation, spiritual training, counselling, etc. Extrapolated to the general population this would give a figure of 1 172 000 people. The sociostructural characteristics of the main frequenters of cults are: higher education, officials and employees, people with higher than average incomes or people with an income under DM 3000, single people and single parents, middle-aged people and city dwellers.

Denmark: in addition to the 11 recognized religions there are 36 religious communities with permission to hold religious services, there is no indication of a recent significant increase in the number of cults.

Belgium: there are 150 cults which "should be kept under observation", there is no information on membership numbers or trends.

France: there was no representative of the national parliament present, the following figures are given in the summary of the report of the French National Assembly Committee of Inquiry of 20 December 1995, which is annexed to the meeting report: according to the criteria adopted (see above), the intelligence services have counted 172 cults. This figure is for "parent organizations", if subsidiary branches are taken into account the figure is 800. The number of members is approximately 160 000, the number of sympathizers around 100 000.

Finland, Luxembourg and Ireland were not represented a the joint meeting.

Working methods and conduct of cults

The opinions of the national parliament representatives in the joint meeting and in the reports from the three national parliaments generally support the information which was available to Parliament at the time of its 1984 and 1996 resolutions. At that time, the following types of behaviour were seen as problematic:

- financial exploitation of members through excessive costs of courses, teaching materials, diagnosis and therapy; pressure to make donations;

- aggressive recruitment of members,

- physical and psychological neglect of devotees,

- infringement of employment and social security provisions for workers,

- unpaid or underpaid employment,

- separating people from their family, social and professional environment,

- refusal of conventional medical practices and blood transfusions for themselves and minor children,

- use of so-called psycho-techniques and methods of psychological manipulation,

- isolating children and young people in kindergartens and schools belonging to the cult,

- pursuit of predominantly financial or political interests in the guise of religion, counselling, personal development, etc.,

- infiltrating State institutions,

- infiltrating and influencing business enterprises,

- persecuting critics and people who had left the cult.

It should be noted that these common criticisms do not all carry the same weight. While, for example, there is evidently a problem with blood transfusion in the Jehovah"s Witnesses and the Member States have developed legal instruments to tackle this, complaints about manipulative psychological techniques or the infiltration of State institutions should be treated with considerably more caution. The German Bundestag interim report is fairly sceptical about the relevance of so-called psychotechniques.

'It is much more important to recognize the web of psychological and material dependence, of personal commitment, outside influence and threatened sanctions. The international reverberations and interconnections must be revealed.'(5)

Even more recent publications(6) cannot really substantiate the repeated accusation, particularly against Scientology, of infiltrating State institutions. The strategies described seem extremely amateurish and not at all threatening in the face of a firmly established constitutional democracy.

In connection with certain cults the following activities are frequently denounced as clearly criminal: sexual abuse of children, trafficking in drugs and people, illegal practice of medicine, money laundering, tax evasion and incitement to suicide.

Ways to restrict undesirable activities

Strategies to raise public awareness

The proposals made in the joint meeting reflect the varying situations in the Member States. In three Member States (France, Germany and Belgium) in response to particular events and the level of public discussion the problem was and is considered so important that detailed parliamentary inquiries and debates have been and are being held. The reports as well as the national parliament representatives in the joint meeting point to the central importance of increased public education in general, and in particular of young people and relevant institutions (youth services, teachers, judges, public prosecutors, financial authorities, authorities concerned with businesses and associations, etc.). If the job of education is undertaken by State agencies, or private agencies are supported with public money, the national constitution or national constitutional tradition can require that the State remain neutral with regard to evaluating the religious content and not take sides in the contest between various religions and preachers of salvation(7). According to the available reports there are State public education campaigns in Germany, France and Austria. In Sweden and Belgium the national parliaments have proposed such campaigns.

In order to meet the need for education with improved and more objective material, nearly all the national parliament representatives, participating members of the Committee on Civil Liberties and Internal Affairs and experts from the national parliaments called for more information to be obtained and better exchange of information at international level. As is apparent from the figures which are available in the individual Member States, there is a general lack even of basic scientifically reliable quantitative data, e.g. on the number of cults in operation, number of members and membership structures. An exchange of information at international level was thought advisable particularly with regard to: internal organization (e.g. which particular organizations belong to which groups), nomenclature, which is often different in different countries, international branches and typical methods of operation and conduct. As a platform for this information exchange at European level and as an interface for world-wide cooperation the following proposals were made in the joint meeting:

- setting up a Europe-wide databank, without specifying by whom it should be run,

- setting up a databank under Europol,

- creating a Europe-wide coordination body,

- creating a European observatory,

- extending national information agencies and improving their links at European level.

Many representatives expressly rejected creating any new European agencies. Others emphasized that Europol only had a role to play in cases of undoubted criminal activity as defined under Europol's current mandate or possibly its extended mandate pursuant to Article 2(2) of the Convention.

Just as the lack of reliable quantitative figures led to both overestimates and underestimates of the problem of cults in political and social discussion, the lack of qualitative research led to misconceptions. The German Bundestag interim report addresses the problem of lack of knowledge and research in more detail and sees gaps particularly in the areas of educational and psychological research on children and young people in cults and in investigation of the effects of psychological and socio-psychological behaviour modification techniques.


It was frequently pointed out that it would be desirable, in addition to information and education, to provide specific counselling and help to people wanting to leave cults and their families. This was, however, generally seen as a national task.

Legal instruments

It was generally considered that each national legal system had sufficient instruments to tackle the illegal activities of cults. The idea of specific anti-cult legislation was rejected. Because of the specific composition of cults the use and application of general laws was sometimes problematic, but this could only be solved through better cooperation and education of the representatives of all the agencies involved and more precise application of the existing laws. As was clear in particular from the German court judgment and the French National Assembly report, one approach was to ascertain whether the type of organization chosen was appropriate to the actual purpose, to demand precise details of an organization"s objectives and funds and continually to monitor them. Criminal and civil court cases often only recognized the guilt and responsibility of the individual; connections with activities organized by cults were often not investigated. In the joint meeting only the Belgian Parliament representative referred to a discussion proposal on extending Belgian criminal law in this area.

While the existing consumer protection law could in many cases be applied to relations between cults and their clients, the largest legal loophole exists with regard to the "psychological services" market. This loophole had to be closed not primarily because of the services offered by cults in this area - other service providers predominated - but to facilitate provision of better consumer protection against some cult activities which were perceived as problematic. According to the German Bundestag Committee of Inquiry's current knowledge of the growing "psychological services" market there are approximately 1000 approaches, methods, techniques and procedures. The annual turnover of this "alternative" area is estimated at DM 18 bn. The 40 largest alternative newspapers had a combined print run of 2.9 million. The number of service providers in the alternative area is between 10 000 and 20 000, a high figure in comparison with the number of established neurologists, psychiatrists, clinical psychologists and psychotherapists(8). There is a tremendous demand for counselling and advice on coping with life (see above). Those seeking help now find it impossible to examine and evaluate the various therapies and quasi-therapeutic procedures and techniques which are on offer. There is no guarantee that users' expectations of professional standards will be met or protection provided from abusive or manipulative techniques or unfair contractual conditions.

Reactions from the Council and Commission

In its resolutions of 22 May 1984 and 29 February 1996, Parliament called on the Council and Commission to take various steps. It is evident from the answers to a questionnaire sent out in connection with this report that neither the Council nor the Commission have acted on these recommendations.

A letter was sent to the Council and Commission asking for information on what specific action they had taken in response to Parliament's requests. The Commission replied with regard to only one of the points and did not mention any specific measures. The Council in its reply only referred to the views expressed by the Council President during a debate in Parliament on 28 February 1996, in which various activities were announced. Since then evidently no further steps have been taken.

Cults in the Central and Eastern European countries

Both in the joint meeting and in the relevant literature it has been pointed out that the cult phenomenon is growing in particular in Central and Eastern Europe and that the State authorities are overstretched in their efforts to tackle what is for them a new problem. It was however impossible to obtain more detailed information on these countries.

(1)() OJ C 78, 18.3.1996, p. 31
(2)() OJ C 172, 12.7.1984, p. 41
(3)() Temas para el Debate, 32, 1997.
(4)() Interim report by the Committee of inquiry on so-called cults and psycho-groups, German Bundestag, Publication 1⅜170, July 1997, p. 33.
(5)() Interim report, p. 31.
(6)() Caberta/Träger, Scientology greift an (1997).
(7)() See the detailed discussions by the German Bundestag Committee of Inquiry, interim report, p. 17.
(8)() Interim report, p. 37.

Last updated: 27 March 1999Legal notice