An inch of time is an inch of gold – the time factor in child abduction related proceedings: Balbino v. Portugal

This post was written by Nadia Rusinova who is attorney-at-law and lecturer in International private law at The Hague University.

On 29 January 2019 the European Court of Human Rights (hereinafter: The Court) delivered its judgment on the case Simoes Balbino v. Portugal which addresses procedural delay in the context of the attribution of the exercise of parental authority in child abduction cases and the obligations of the state under Art. 8 ECHR. A key factor, in this case, is the time factor in proceedings related to child abduction, under the Hague Convention and in general in proceedings related to children. In the present case, the Court has ruled in a rather unexpected way on the issue of how the wrongful removal of the child should be assessed in a pending parental dispute, and in particular, is the child abduction a factor which determines the procedural behaviour of the domestic courts.

In its previous case law, the Court had said that a national court could not order the return of the child, or enforce a return order, if it had not considered the child’s best interests (Neulinger and Shuruk v. Switzerland, B. v. BelgiumSneersone and Kampanella v. Italy). Later, in X. v. Latvia,  the most recent judgment on this matter delivered by the Grand Chamber, the Court explained that the consideration of the child’s best interests did not mean a detailed assessment of the entire situation, but instead an obligation to ‘genuinely take into account factors that could constitute an exception to the return’ (under Arts. 12, 13 and 20 of the Hague Convention), in particular if one of the parties invoked these factors. In Adzic v. Croatia the Court adds that the assessment must be done speedily, which is in line with the goal of the Hague  Convention. Subsequently, in its most recent judgment in Rinau v. Lithuania, the Court finds that the time it took for the Lithuanian courts to reach the final decision in the applicant’s case, the Lithuanian courts had ‘failed to respond to the urgency of their situation’ and the delay of two years already amounted to a violation of Art.8. The view of the Court in this case offers some challenging turns to the aforementioned precedent – namely on the issue of time proceedings –which will be discussed further below.

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Who can represent a child (with disabilities) before the ECtHR? Locus Standi requirements and the issue of curator ad litem in L.R. v. North Macedonia

Dr. Gamze Erdem Türkelli is a Post-Doctoral Fellow Fundamental Research of Research Foundation (FWO) Flanders (File Number 12Q1719N) at the Law and Development Research Group, University of Antwerp Faculty of Law.

The NGO Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Skopje (HCHR) brought a case before the ECtHR on behalf of L.R., an eight-year-old child with moderate mental disabilities, severe physical disabilities (cerebral palsy) and a speech impediment. L.R. had been in the care of state-run institutions since he was three months old. The NGO alleged that L.R. had suffered from ill-treatment and inadequate care in violation of Art. 3 of the European Convention. In 2013, North Macedonia’s Ombudsman visited a state-run institute and found L.R. tied to his bed, which subsequently gave rise to the NGO’s interest in his case. The Strasbourg Court unanimously held that there had been a violation of Art. 3 as L.R. had been placed in an institute that could not provide him with adequate or requisite care for his needs and had suffered inhuman and degrading treatment (L.R. v. North Macedonia, §95).This contribution does not focus on the substance of the case but addresses rather a procedural issue: the issue of the representation of a minor who is in a vulnerable situation before the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), raised by Judge Wojtyczek in his Partly Dissenting Opinion the case. Continue reading

Child protection and child-centrism – the Grand Chamber case of Strand Lobben and others v. Norway 2019

By Prof. Marit Skivenes, Centre for Research on Discretion and Paternalism (University of Bergen)

The backdrop for the Grand Chamber case, is the dissenting Chamber judgment of 2017 – Strand Lobben vs. Norway  – about a boy that had been adopted from foster care. Here, the Chamber concluded it had not been a violation of the mother´s right to respect for family life under Article 8 due to the Chamber’s strong emphasis on the child’s best interest and his de facto family situation, as well as his need for permanency. The dissenting minority of three judges argued for the importance of legal (de jure) bonds and the negative effects of cutting biological ties. In the Grand Chamber judgment, a majority of 13 judges concluded that Norway had violated the applicants’ right to family life on procedural grounds – not on the merits of adoption from care. By this, the Court bypassed a discussion on the tensions and challenges children´s strong position as right bearers implies for the traditional relationships between family and the state.

Although, the Grand Chamber judgement is a disappointment for some and a relief for others, I believe that from a child´s rights perspective there are three important messages that should be addressed: Continue reading

Parental Child Abduction is back on the agenda of the European Court of Human Rights

Simona Florescu PhD fellow, Leiden Law School, the Child Law Department

Parental child abduction has been a frequent occurrence for the European Court of Human Rights with the case of O.C.I. and others v Romania being the latest in a series of more than 70 applications. The Court decided these cases in several formations, ranging from the Grand Chamber, to the Chamber and most recently to the Committee of three judges. These formations are indicative of the importance the Court attaches to the issues raised by parental child abduction cases. On the basis of O.C.I. and Others v Romania, we could thus infer that child abduction has become a matter of well-established case law which does not require a too detailed analysis.[1] This may well be the perspective of the ECtHR, however, child abduction is anything but well-established case law[2] and it is precisely in these cross border cases that the Court can and should make a significant contribution in standard setting.

It is for this reason that I have decided to write this blog post. I argue that the Court – and human rights practitioners in general – need to be alert of the difficulties that cross border cases raise for individuals. In these cases, domestic courts of one country are expected to defer the analysis of the merits of the case to the domestic courts of the other country. In the midst of such deferral, and because there is no supranational supervision (other than that of the ECtHR), there is a risk of lower or no protection for human rights. Therefore, dispensing with this case in a Committee of three judges does not do justice to the many complexities raised by child abduction cases. I argue that the case of O.C.I. and others v Romania is one example where, in my opinion, there is more at stake than what the Court makes of it. Continue reading

H.A. and others v. Greece – restrictive acknowledgement of irregular migrant vulnerability

By Elina Todorov, PhD Candidate, Tampere University (Finland)

On 28. February 2019 the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) delivered a judgement concerning unaccompanied minors in an irregular situation, namely H.A. and others v. Greece.  In H.A. the Court found several violations of the Convention, in particular a partial violation of Article 3 regarding the living conditions of the applicants (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment), a violation of Article 13 (right to an effective remedy, taken together with Article 3) and also violations of Article 5 § 1 and 5 § 4 (right to liberty and security, right to a speedy decision on the lawfulness of a detention measure). The case stands well in line with the Court’s previous case law concerning irregular migration. In H.A., the Court regarded that the authorities’ conduct caused a situation in which the national authorities had not succeeded in protecting the applicants who were unaccompanied foreign minors in an irregular situation. In line with its established case law, the Court recognized that minors – or in other words children – in an irregular situation are to be regarded as a vulnerable group mainly due to the fact that they are children (rather than because they are irregular migrants). However, as will be argued in this blog post, the Court thereby failed to adequately recognize the vulnerability resulting from the applicants’ irregular residence status. Continue reading

FRÖHLICH V. GERMANY: (AB)USING THE CHILD’S BEST INTERESTS TO SAFEGUARD THOSE OF OTHERS

By Evelyn Merckx, teaching assistant and PhD-researcher at Ghent University

To many, the simultaneous reading of Mandet v. France and Fröhlich v. Germany proves to be a crucial inconsistency in the case-law of the ECtHR. In Mandet v. France, the paternity of a legal father was withdrawn in favour of the biological father, despite the eleven-years-old child’s opposition to having his paternity changed which became evident from the letters addressed to the domestic judge. Subsequently, the domestic judge remarked that the child’s best interests “ne se trouvait pas tant là où le troisième requérant le voyait” (“did not lie where the child saw them himself”). The judge figured that the child should know the truth about his origins (for more information: see here). In Fröhlich v. Germany, a similar factual context existed, but in this case, the child was informed about the fact that a man started proceedings for contact and information rights, but not that this claim originated in his belief that he was her biological father. In the end, the domestic judge dismissed the request of the father on the grounds that the child’s best interests were endangered because the marriage between her legal parents could fall apart if the biological paternity of Fröhlich were to be established. Both domestic judgments were condoned by the ECtHR. Continue reading

Justice from the Perspective of an Applicant: meeting Ms Neulinger

Simona Florescu, PhD fellow, Leiden Law School, the Child Law Department

In September I had the opportunity to meet the applicant in the Grand Chamber case Neulinger and Shuruk v Switzerland.[1] We had a lengthy 4 hours conversation about the ins and outs of her personal situation, the circumstances that led her to taking her son away from Israel to Switzerland and her experience with the European Court of Human Rights. Hence, in this contribution, I would like to share that experience and highlight some aspects which may be potentially interesting for the readership of this blog.

But first a brief reminder of the circumstances of the case. Continue reading