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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Strand Lobben and Others v. Norway: from Age of Subsidiarity to Age of Redundancy?

In the recent judgment of Strand Lobben and Others v. Norway, the Grand Chamber found a violation of Article 8 ECHR (the right to respect for family life) on account of shortcomings in the decision-making process leading to the adoption of a boy who had been placed in foster care. The Grand Chamber in particular took issue with the fact that this decision had been taken without up-to-date expert evidence on the mother’s capacity to provide proper care and on her son’s vulnerability. As the case has already been discussed by Marit Skivenes on this blog, this post will only focus on a particular aspect of the case: the side-stepping of the important substantive issues in favour of a purely procedural review of the case, despite strong mobilization by third party interveners around the former. This certainly fits within the broader trend seen in the case law where there is an increasing reliance on procedural review, often associated with the idea of Strasbourg having entered the “Age of Subsidiarity”, a term coined by Judge Spano. It is argued that, by micromanaging domestic processes rather than providing guidance on substantive issues, at a moment in time in which no useful decision can still be made for the families affected, the Court risks making itself redundant in addressing human rights concerns in the area of child protection. 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

The protection of foster parents right to family and the best interests of the child

By Kartica van de Zon, assistant professor of Family Law, Leiden Law School, the Child Law Department

On 9 April 2019, the ECtHR delivered its judgement in the case V.D and others v Russia. The case concerned a seriously disabled boy who had been in the care of his foster mother for nine years. Typically in cases on long term foster care and adoption, parents complain about their loss of parental authority, or the fact that the child has not returned to their care. In this case, however, it was the foster mother who complained that the child did return to the care of his biological parents. This poses the Strasbourg Court with a difficult dilemma. On the one hand, the Court has often stated that the reunification of children and their parents is the primary goal of child protection measures. On the other hand, the family life between children and their foster parents also deserves protection under Article 8 of the Convention. Granting foster parents a right not to be separated from foster children might come in conflict with the primary goal of child protection measures. Thus how far does the protection of foster parents right to family life reach? Continue reading

The importance of time in child protection decisions; a commentary on Haddad v Spain

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

On 18 June 2019 the European Court of Human Rights found a violation of Article 8 of the Convention in the case of Haddad v Spain. The main reason was that the Spanish authorities did not discharge of their positive obligations to facilitate reunification between the applicant and his daughter (who had been placed in care). The applicant was the child’s father who at the time of placement was suspected of domestic violence against his children and their mother. About one year and four months had elapsed by the time the applicant was legally able to contact his children. During this time, his youngest child (one year and a half old at the time) had been living with foster parents and the authorities were envisaging her adoption.

In addition to finding a violation, the Court called upon the Spanish authorities to re-examine the situation in light of the judgment. Thus, arguably the Spanish authorities are to endeavor to secure the applicant’s reunification with his daughter. Continue reading

Vladimir Ushakov V. Russia – The 1980 Hague Convention, the child’s best interests and gender biases

By Tine Van Hof, PhD researcher at the University of Antwerp

 On the 18th of June 2019, the European Court of Human Rights gave judgment in the case of Vladimir Ushakov v. Russia (application no. 15122/17). The Court held by six votes to one that there has been a violation of the applicant’s right to family life under Article 8 ECHR. The case concerns Mr Ushakov who sought the return of his daughter V. to Finland after the mother I.K. took her to Russia. The Russian court refused to order the return of the child and based this decision on Article 13(1)(b) of the Hague Convention on Child Abduction. The Court carefully applies the general principles that have emerged in its previous case law on international child abduction. In that respect, the case is not very noteworthy. However, the dissenting opinion of Judge Dedov, in which he is critical of the Hague Convention, invites for discussion. This post will in particular respond to what Judge Dedov has defined as “deficiencies” of the Hague Convention. 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