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

A and B. v. Croatia and the concurring opinion of Judge Wojtyczek: the procedural status of the ‘disappearing party’

Claire Loven – PhD researcher at the Montaigne Centre for Rule of Law and Administration of Justice (Utrecht University)

On 20 June 2019 the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR or Court) delivered a judgment in A and B. v. Croatia on the investigation of allegations of child sexual abuse. A, the mother of B, accused B’s father of sexually abusing the four-year-old B. After the Croatian State Attorney’s Office decided against prosecuting the father, finding that it could not conclude that C had committed any prosecutable offence, A and B lodged a complaint before the Court. They complained about the failure of the Croatian authorities to provide a proper response to allegations of child sexual abuse. By four votes to three the Court found that there had been no violation of the procedural aspects of Article 3 (prohibition of torture) and Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life). The sharp division within the Chamber is not only reflected in the bare majority vote on the outcome, but also in the fact that, together, the concurring and dissenting opinions are just as long as the Court’s judgment. The joint concurring opinion by Judges Koskelo, Eicke and Ilievski and the joint dissenting opinion by Judges Sicilianos, Turković and Pejchal focus on the scope of the case, whilst Judge Wojtyczek raises the issue of the father not having a role in the Court’s proceedings. In this blogpost, I leave the issues raised by Koskelo et al. and Sicilianos et al. for other commentators, and focus on the particular issues raised by Wojtyczek. Continue reading

Yeshtla v. the Netherlands: a missed opportunity to reflect on the discriminatory effects of States’ social policy choices

By Fulvia Staiano, Adjunct Professor of International Law and European Union Law (Giustino Fortunato University)

On 15 January 2019, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) delivered an inadmissibility decision on the case of Emabet Yeshtla v. the Netherlands. In this case, the ECtHR was asked to determine whether the withdrawal of the applicant’s housing benefits (motivated by the fact that she cohabited with an unlawfully resident son) had breached her right to respect for private and family life under Art. 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), alone and in conjunction with the prohibition of discrimination under Art. 14 ECHR. This case raised interesting questions on the potential impact of social assistance and welfare policies on recipients’ family life, as well as on the discriminatory effects of domestic norms that use social benefits as a tool to discourage irregular residence. Regrettably, the ECtHR dismissed this case without a thorough consideration of such questions. Continue reading

Wunderlich v. Germany: enforcing compulsory home-schooling

By Daniel Monk, Professor of Law, Birkbeck, University of London

On 10th January 2019, the European Court of Human Rights unanimously held that there had been no violation of Article 8 in a case concerning the withdrawal of aspects of the authority of parents and the removal of children from their home for a period of three weeks. The case did not explicitly address Germany’s policy of compulsory schooling, but, rather the legality of the measures taken to enforce the policy. Nevertheless, the arguments raised highlight why home-schooling (or Elective Home Education) is an issue that goes to the heart of current debates about shifting understandings of parental responsibilities and the underlying potential tensions between the civil/political and the social/welfare functions of education. 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

Mohamed Hasan v. Norway: Solomon’s judgment gone wrong?

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

King Solomon has proven to be a widely-used character in titles of papers regarding the placement of foster children and adoption. With the risk of becoming repetitive, the following analysis reveals why this case so strikingly reminds the reader of the biblical narrative. Though the facts are very similar, the ultimate plot varies greatly as the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights does not favour the “real” or even the “fake” mother, but the domestic authorities. Continue reading

Inadmissibility decision in Bonnaud and Lecoq v. France – should the Court have recognized the specificity of a same-sex relationship?

By Pieter Cannoot, PhD researcher at the Human Rights Centre of Ghent University

On 6 February 2018, the European Court of Human Rights declared the application of Francine Bonnaud and Patricia Lecoq, two French women who were in a relationship at the time of the relevant facts, manifestly ill-founded. The application concerned the refusal by the domestic courts to grant the request by both women to delegate parental authority over their respective biological child to their partner. Although the Court prima facie seems to have come to a logical decision, the question arises whether the application was accurately framed to deal with the substantive issue at stake, i.e. the discrimination of same-sex couples regarding parental rights. Continue reading