In the case of Stanev v. Bulgaria the Grand Chamber gives hope for future developments in the Court’s approach towards the protection of private and family lives of mentally disabled people (Lycette Nelson from the Mental Disability Advocacy Center has also blogged about this case, read it here). Even though the majority did not find it necessary to examine Mr. Stanev’s complaint under Article 8, the dissenting opinions of four judges show that there are voices within the Court that consider that the institutionalization of mentally disabled persons has more aspects the Convention should protect. Continue reading
The Grand Chamber has handed down its much-awaited judgment in Aksu v. Turkey. This case concerns the use of derogatory stereotypical images of Roma in government-sponsored publications. The Grand Chamber holds with 16 votes to 1 that article 8 (right to private life) has not been violated. I have mixed feelings about the Court’s reasoning. When it comes to stereotypes, the judgment contains progressive and insightful reasoning. On the other hand, I regret that the Court did not take the substance of the applicant’s complaint – namely that he was discriminated as a Roma – seriously. In what follows I will chart the Court’s judgment and highlight both some strengths and some weaknesses. Continue reading
Today’s guest post was written by Rónán Ó Fathaigh, one of our colleagues at the Human Rights Centre. More information on Rónán can be found on the website of the Center for Journalism Studies of Ghent University, here.
The Grand Chamber of the European Court delivered two judgments recently concerning the appropriate balancing exercise where there is a conflict between the right to freedom of expression and the right to respect for private life. The judgments in Von Hannover (no. 2) v. Germany and Axel Springer v. Germany both concerned publication by newspapers of various details of well-know figures. Of the two, Axel Springer is arguably of more significance, and resulted in a divided Grand Chamber (12-5 majority) finding a violation of Article 10. Continue reading
The recent judgment of Iyilik v. Turkey concerns competing interests of an applicant and his (legal) daughter in a paternity case. The wife of the applicant, Mr. Iyilik, had given birth to a daughter in 1966. Mr. Iyilik denied being the biological father and a year later the couple divorced. Mr. Iyilik then brought proceedings to contest his paternity. Blood tests, the only available tests at the time, were taken. The results showed that Mr. Iyilik could be the father, just as any other man with the same blood type could be. The domestic courts consequently denied his request for contestation of paternity. In 2002, Mr. Iyilik submitted a new complaint, requesting reopening of the file and re-examination of his paternity in light of new scientific developments, i.e. the possibility of undergoing a DNA test. In pursuing his new claim, Mr. Iyilik relied on a specific article of the Turkish Civil Procedural Code which allowed for reopening of any civil proceedings if the impossibility to present certain pieces of evidence during the initial proceedings had constituted force majeure. The courts, however, rejected Mr. Iyilik’s request, relying on established jurisprudence of the Turkish Court of Cassation to the effect that the state of scientific progress could not reveal any force majeure.
In Austria, it is forbidden to use donated sperm or ova for in vitro fertilization (‘IVF’). Ovum donation is under all circumstances prohibited; sperm donation is only possible when the sperm is directly placed in the womb of a woman (in vivo artificial insemination). Two Austrian couples complained about this regulation; the first couple needs IVF treatment with use of donor sperm and the other couple needs IVF with use of a donor ovum to fulfill their wish for a child of which at least one of them is the genetic parent. In 2010, the First Section held in S.H. and Others v. Austria that the Austrian regulation violated Article 14 in conjunction with Article 8 of the Convention, with a vote of 6-1 regarding the first couple and 5-2 vote regarding the second couple. Stijn and I have both blogged about that Chamber judgment (see here and here).
The Grand Chamber reversed that judgment a few days ago. With a vote of 13 to 4, the Grand Chamber concludes that the restrictive Austrian assisted reproduction regulation is not contrary to the Convention. Quite frankly, I have difficulties writing this post. The case raises very complex issues, situated as it is within a highly contentious debate about the way the Court should adjudicate culturally or ethically sensitive issues. Recently, the Court has had to endure a barrage of critique for what is perceived as its usurpation of power from the Contracting States. The majority of the Grand Chamber goes to great lengths in this case to appease its critics and appear respectful of State sovereignty: ‘the Court’s task is not to substitute itself for the competent national authorities in determining the most appropriate policy for regulating matters of artificial procreation’ (par 92). And: ‘The Court considers that concerns based on moral considerations or on social acceptability must be taken seriously in a sensitive domain like artificial procreation’ (par. 100). The stakes are high; a lot of pressure is put on the Court. In its third-party intervention, the Italian Government practically announces the apocalypse if ovum donation were allowed: ‘to call maternal filiation into question by splitting motherhood would lead to a weakening of the entire structure of society’ (par 73).
It is impossible to navigate this debate and discuss all the facets of the case satisfactorily in a blog post. I will limit my discussion to the Court’s use of the margin of appreciation- and consensus-arguments, and Austria’s reasons in support of its restrictive legislation as regards assisted reproduction. Continue reading
In a recent judgment in the case of Genovese v. Malta the Court gave very few words when determining the scope and ambit of Article 8. The Court managed to exclude a right, find no violation and determine the scope in the same sentence, and, in contrary to previous citizenship cases, did not give one word more to justify its decision. Continue reading
In a recent judgement in the case of Girard v. France (in French) the Court recognized a new right under Article 8 – the right to bury one’s relatives. This case involved three aspects of dealing with an individual’s remains under the Convention: returning the body to relatives, organizing and attending a funeral, and treatment of samples taken from the body for investigation purposes. The Court had dealt with these issues separately before. The outcome was different when the issues got mixed. Continue reading
By Laurens Lavrysen*
As Alexandra correctly noted in her post, R.R. v. Poland is a very interesting judgment. The focus of this post will lie on the general health rights implications of this judgment, which exceed the specific context of reproductive health.
In the case of Tysiąc v. Poland (ECtHR 20 March 2007) the Court stated that “once the legislature decides to allow abortion, it must not structure its legal framework in a way which would limit real possibilities to obtain it.” The Court ruled that Poland had violated Art. 8 ECHR because there was no procedure to establish whether Mrs. Tysiąc could have access to a legal abortion on health grounds. She had a severe sight disability and there were serious reasons to believe that her sight would decrease even more if she were to give birth. As she was denied access to an abortion, she eventually became almost blind.
The case of R.R. is quite comparable: the applicant is a woman who had a right to have an abortion under domestic law (on the ground that her fetus was severely malformed) but she was prevented effective access to this right (because the Polish doctors and hospitals she contacted deliberately refused to do a conclusive genetic test before the legal time limit).
It has been claimed and it is also my understanding that human rights protect important aspects of a human life. The views on what are the important aspects may vary. The drafters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights put in their views; inspired by the rights in the Declaration, the European Convention was composed, and States made an agreement that those are the aspects that should be protected by legally binding human rights. And finally, the Court does its job to interpret the rights and thus we find spheres in each right that are protected by the respective right. These spheres are often determined as rights within the existing broader rights of the Convention. Does the Court think about the general importance of the spheres in human life when developing the scope of rights? To my mind, it could be at least stronger on applying the importance criterion. Let’s take a look at a recent case decided by the Court – Golemanova v. Bulgaria. Continue reading
Mgn Limited v. the United Kingdom concerned several articles published in 2001 in the tabloid Mirror (now Daily Mirror), revealing that supermodel Naomi Campbell was attending Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings in an attempt to treat her drug addiction. The articles were accompanied by several photographs, including one in which Ms. Campbell was seen standing in the street in front of a building as the central figure in a small group, dressed in jeans and wearing a baseball cap. Reportedly having just attended an NA meeting, she was being embraced by two people whose faces had been masked on the photograph. The photograph had been taken by a free-lance photographer contracted by the newspaper for that job. He took the photographs covertly while concealed some distance away in a parked car. Ms. Campbell brought proceeding against the Mirror, claiming a breach of confidentiality.
She won in front of the High Court, but its decision was unanimously reversed by the Court of Appeal. Ms. Campbell consequently brought an appeal in front of the House of Lords. The House of Lords was divided on the issue. It eventually ruled in favour of Ms. Campbell in a 3-2 judgment. All Judges essentially agreed that the publication of Ms. Campbell’s attendance of NA meetings was in the public interest, since she had previously denied taking drugs. The public thus had a right to be informed of the fact that it had been misled by Ms. Campbell. However, the majority of the House of Lords ruled that the publication of the additional information, including the photographs taken of Ms. Campbell leaving NA meetings, was not justified and had breached her privacy rights.
This post is co-authored by Lourdes Peroni and Alexandra Timmer
In an inadmissibility decision that might have gone unnoticed by many, the Court has recently ruled in an interesting case, Horie v UK. The case involves a “New Age Traveler” who complained of an impediment on her ability to pursue a nomadic way of life. The case’s issue was a rather technical legal one – the question was whether a quia timet order which prevented a group of travelers to occupy any land by the Forestry Commission in the Dorset-region was justified – but en passant the Court makes some potentially important remarks about what sort of lifestyle deserves recognition. The purpose of this post is to flag this case and briefly discuss the disquieting remarks the Court makes about what kind of cultural minority-groups deserve protection and which groups don’t. Continue reading
The applicant in Haas v. Switzerland was a 57 years old male who suffered from a bipolar disorder since nearly 20 years. Wishing to commit suicide, Mr. Haas attempted to obtain a lethal substance (sodium pentobarbital) that was only available on medical prescription. To that end, he contacted several psychiatrists, but was not able to obtain a prescription. Mr. Haas filed applications with the domestic authorities to obtain permission to acquire the substance without prescription, but they all rejected his applications, up to the Federal Tribunal, inter alia because his case did not reveal any urgency that would justify departure from the regulatory framework.
Mr. Haas then sent a letter to 170 doctors, requesting their assistance in obtaining a prescription. None replied positively. Some answered that they were not competent to deliver such a prescription, some refused for ethical reasons and others replied that his condition was treatable.
Mr. Haas subsequently filed an application with the European Court of Human Rights, complaining of a violation of his right to respect for his private life. He argued that, due to the domestic courts’ decisions, his right to decide the moment and the manner of his death had not been respected. He maintained that, in exceptional circumstance, such as his, access to the necessary substances should be provided by the State.
In the end of last year the Court delivered a judgment in the case of Ternovszky v. Hungary. In this judgment the Court created a new right – the right to choose the circumstances of becoming a parent. I will not focus on the discussion about the safety of the mother and the child that is part of the factual part of the judgment but solely on the creation of the new right.
A., B. and C. v. Ireland concerned three Irish applicants who, in their first trimester of pregnancy, had travelled to England to have an abortion because they believed they would not be allowed to have one in Ireland.
The Irish Constitution, unlike the European Convention on Human Rights, explicitly extends the right to life to the unborn foetus. Abortion is moreover prohibited under the criminal law by section 58 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 (“the 1861 Act”) providing as penalty “penal servitude for life”. However, this does not mean that abortion constitutes a criminal act in all circumstances in Ireland. The 1861 legislation needs to be read in light of the amended Irish Constitution, which states in Article 40.3.3: “3° The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right; This subsection shall not limit freedom to travel between the State and another state; This subsection shall not limit freedom to obtain or make available, in the State, subject to such conditions as may be laid down by law, information relating to services lawfully available in another state.”
However, no legislation or other regulatory measures have been adopted to clarify what is meant by the “equal right to life of the mother” and in which situations there is a real and substantial risk to that right to life such as to outweigh the right to life of the unborn foetus.
This guest post on freedom of expression, academic research, privacy protection and access to official documents has been written by Professor Dirk Voorhoof. Professor Voorhoof is affiliated to both Ghent University (Belgium) and Copenhagen University (Denmark). He is also a Member of the Flemish Regulator for the Media. Further information on Professor Voorhoof can be found on his personal webpage here.
For further information on the topic of the post, see the website of the International Conference “Privacy and Scientific Research: from Obstruction to Construction”, taking place tomorrow, 23 November 2010 in Brussels, Belgium.
The European Court of Human Rights has delivered a judgment in an interesting case with a peculiar mix of issues related to freedom of expression, academic research, medical data, privacy protection and access to official documents. The defendant state is Sweden, a country very familiar with the principle and practice of access to official documents. The right of access to official documents has a history of more than two hundred years in Sweden and is considered one of the cornerstones of Swedish democracy. The case shows how access to official documents, included research documents containing sensitive personal data, can be granted to other researchers, albeit under strict conditions. The case furthermore demonstrates that Sweden applies effective procedures to implement orders granting access to official documents : those who refuse to open access to official documents after a court decision has ordered to do so can be convicted on the basis of criminal law. The case clearly reflects the idea that progress in scientific knowledge would be hindered unduly if the research methodology or scientific data analysis and the conclusions build on the data were not open to scrutiny, discussion and debate, albeit under strict conditions of privacy protection regarding medical data.
In a previous post, Alexandra wrote about sexual abuse by members of the Church and possibly relevant case-law of the European Court of Human Rights. I will follow up on that post in this one.
The past week, the Belgian authorities have upped the ante in the fight against sexual abuse by members of the Catholic Church. An investigative judge ordered house searches in several buildings, including a cathedral, belonging to the Church. During the searches, the police looked for evidence of knowledge of – and thus, attempts to hide – the sexual abuse by the Church. They also seized the 475 personal files of victims that had reported their abuse to the so-called Commission Adriaenssens. The Commission had been set up by the Church itself as an organ of independent experts that would examine the sexual abuse by members of the Church in Belgium. Following the search and the confiscation of the files, the Commission decided to disband since it felt it could no longer fulfil its task. The President of the Commission expressed outrage over what he called a violation of the victims’ privacy. Members of the Church, going as high up as the Vatican itself, expressed similar outrage over the searches. The Vatican described these as worse than the practices during the Communist regimes. But also the victims whose files had been confiscated did not go unheard. One victim filed a complaint with the investigative authorities, claiming to be disadvantaged by their actions, in order to get insight into the files and closer involvement in the procedures. Other victims have joined together to, now that the Commission Adriaenssens has disbanded, demand a Parliamentary investigation into the crimes of sexual abuse by Church members.
The various reactions reveal that the house searches, and especially the seizure of the personal files of the victims that had stepped forward, pose difficult issues. I would divide the complaints into two different categories. The complaints of the Church and the Vatican about the manner in which the searches were conducted constitute the first category. The complaints of the Commission and the victims about the violation of the victims’ privacy constitute the second. I will discuss these in turn.