Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Persoanele cu dizabilitati in fata Curtii Constitutionale a Romaniei

Pe 6 februarie 2017, Tribunalul Buzau a sesizat Curtea Constitutionala cu o cerere de examinare a constitutionalitatii Articolului 164§1 din Codul Civil privind procedura punerii sub interdictie. Litigiul principal se refera la o cerere de punere sub interdictie introdusa de Spitalul Psihiatric Sapoca din Judetul Buzau, care vizeaza unui pacient diagnosticat cu schizofrenie, internat fortat in diverse spitale psihiatrice de maxima siguranta incepand din 2001. Cererea aflata pe rolul Curtii Constitutionale (Dosar nr. 695D/2017) reprezinta o sansa pentru reexaminarea unei institutii – punerea sub interdictie – anacronice, profund nedrepte si aflata in contradictie flagranta cu drepturile fundamentale ale omului. Acest articol isi propune sa prezinte pe scurt motivele pentru care contest aceasta institutie, reprezentand in acelasi timp un apel la mobilizare in sustinerea clientului meu adresat societatii civile interesate de protectia drepturilor omului.

Procedura punerii sub interdictie consta in privarea de capacitatea de exercitiu a persoanelor cu probleme de sanatate mintala percepute ca fiind incapabile de a-si apara interesele, si punerea lor sub tutela unei terte persoane. Capacitatea de exercitiu rezida in aptitudinea persoanei de a-si exercita drepturile pe cont propriu. Punerea sub interdictie este unul din mijloacele institutionale prin care statul condamna persoanele cu dizabilitati la marginalizare fizica si simbolica, alaturi de formele de invatamant segregate, institutiile rezidentiale, lipsa accessibilitatii etc. Pe de o parte, punerea sub interdictie priveaza persoanele cu dizabilitati de drepturile lor fundamentale, precum accesul la justitie sau dreptul la munca, condamnandu-le la destitutie. Pe de alta parte, punerea sub interdictie, care presupune intre altele pierderea automata a dreptului la vot, marcheaza in mod simbolic persoanele cu dizabilitati ca cetateni de mana a doua, sau chiar ca non-persoane, sens in care se vorbeste de “moartea lor civila”.

Procedura punerii sub interdictie este reglementata in Codul Civil, care precizeaza in articolul 164§1 ca “persoana care nu are discernamantul necesar pentru a se ingriji de interesele sale, din cauza alienatiei ori debilitatii mintale, va fi pusa sub interdictie judecatoreasca”. In ciuda efectelor sale dramatice si permanente asupra persoanei, punerea sub interdictie este instituita cu un minimum de garantii procedurale, in instante blazate si indiferente, cu avocati din oficiu indolenti si ignoranti, cu procurorii sau autoritatile tutelare jucand un rol decorativ, fara participarea efectiva a persoanei vizate, bazat exclusiv pe avizul medicilor psihiatri. In vasta majoritate a cazurilor, procedura punerii sub interdictie are loc cu implicarea activa a familiei, care isi asuma sarcina de tutore. Punerea sub interdictie devine insa aproape imposibila in cazul persoanelor cu dizabilitati fara familie, deseori institutionalizate, in ciuda nevoilor de suport si asistenta evidente ale acestora.

Procedura punerii sub interdictie este infestata de stereotipuri negative cu privire la persoanele cu dizabilitati, vazute, dupa caz, ca niste persoane neputincioase asimilate copiilor, sau ca niste bestii periculoase care trebuie tinute sub atenta supraveghere. Departe de a fi o masura de protectie, dupa cum este prezentata in mod formal, punerea sub interdictie faciliteaza adesea abuzurile impotriva persoanei.  Astfel de abuzuri pot fi comise de familie, care pot incerca manipularea procedurii cu scopul de a prelua controlul asupra bunurile persoanei vizate, sau de autoritati, avand in vedere ca punerea sub interdictie priveaza persoana de accesul la justitie, facilitand controlul fizic asupra acesteia sub forma institutionalizarii sau administrarii de tratament medical fortat. In fine, punerea sub interdictie se preteaza la abuzuri sub forma invocarii sale cu rea credinta in conflictele intre persoane private. O data pusa sub interdictie, persoanei in cauza ii va fi foarte greu daca nu imposibil sa obtina ridicarea masurii. Pe de alta parte, conditiile punerii sub interdictie nu sunt supravegheate efectiv, nici supuse unui control periodic, astfel incat masura devine de facto permanenta.

Punerea sub interdictie, reglementata prin apel la termeni anacronici si profund jignitori (“interdictie”! “alienatie”! “debilitate”!), este un artefact juridic aflat in profunda contradictie cu standardele internationale de drepturile omului pe care Romania este tinuta sa le respecte. Astfel, Curtea Europeana a Drepturile Omului a criticat alte state cu institutii similare pentru motive tinand de inflexibilitate, avand in vedere ca acest regim presupune o falsa dihotomie intre persoane cu si fara discernamant, ca nu corespunde circumstantelor diverse ale persoanelor cu sau fara dizabilitati mintale, si ca nu ofera suficiente garantii impotriva abuzurilor. Dreptul Uniunii Europene interzice discriminarea persoanelor cu dizabilitati in campul muncii sau in legatura cu anumite aspecte ale dreptului la vot, chestiuni care sunt afectate in cadrul procedurii punerii sub interdictie. In mod crucial, institutia punerii sub interdictie este in flagranta contradictie cu etosul Conventiei Natiunilor Unite pentru Drepturile Persoanelor cu Dizabilitati, constand in valori precum demnitatea, egalitatea, participarea si autonomia. Mai concret, Conventia interzice institutiile de tipul punerii sub interdictie, bazata pe substitutia vointei persoanei cu dizabilitati,  dictand inlocuirea lor cu regimuri de suport, in care persoanele sunt ajutate sa ia decizii pe cont propriu.

Tarile din regiune, incluzand de exemplu Letonia, Cehia, Croatia sau Moldova au recunoscut caracterul problematic al institutiilor de tipul punerii sub interdictie, initiind reforme de substanta, deseori in urma unor hotarari judecatoresti la nivel de Curte Constituionala sau Curte Suprema. In Romania este de notorietate situatia dramatica a persoanelor cu dizabilitati, indeosebi ale celor din institutii, insa resorturile ascunse ale acestei stari de fapt raman mai degraba neintelese si neabordate. Intre aceste cauze profunde se afla si institutia punerii sub interdictie, care trebuie urgent reformata. Recent, organizatia neguvernamentala Pentru Voi a propus un proiect de lege care ar modifica unele din trasaturile cele mai problematice ale punerii sub interdictie. Pe de alta parte, litigiul aflat pe rolul Curtii Constitutionale, primul atac frontal impotriva regimului juridic actual din perpectiva drepturilor omului, reprezinta o sansa pentru relansarea unei dezbateri care sa vizeze statutul persoanelor cu dizabilitati mintale in societatea noastra in general, si modalitatile in care acestea pot primi suportul necesar pentru luarea autonoma a deciziilor in mod special.


Pentru mai multe detalii, intrebari sau pentru cei ce doresc sa puna umarul la acest effort, ii invit sa ma contacteze pe adresa de email constantincojocariu@yahoo.com sau pe celelalte canale de comunicare cunoscute.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Good judgment on the right to free speech of LGBT communities

The Court delivered (finally!) a decent judgment in a case I have been involved in - KAOS GL v. Turkey - concerning the restrictions placed on a magazine published by well known LGBT organisation discussing pornography and its place in the lives of LGBT people, justified on the basis of criminal provisions banning obscene publications from public exposure. 
Violation of the freedom of expression due to restriction being totally disproportionate as well as sloppy reasoning. Important affirmation of right of LGBT communities to participate in public debate with issues related to their identity. 
Nevertheless, the court's view that some kinky paintings reproduced in the magazine (including a metaphorical depiction of painter having sex with his alter ego) may potentially justify some degree of censorship, without meaningful analysis, as well as its glossing over extensive evidence of this case being part of a wider campaign by Turkish authorities to stifle LGBT activism, were disappointing.
All in all, an ok-enough ruling that may provide some momentary respite to hard-pressed activists in Turkey.
Link to judgment: HERE
Link to INTERIGHTS case page with additional info: HERE



Friday, 29 July 2016

Persoanele trans – de la faza de ‘experiment inedit’, de ‘incalcare a ordinii publice’ la cea de titulari de drepturi fundamentale - un dosar rezolvat recent in instantele romane

Voi prezenta pe scurt istoria unui caz rezolvat recent de instantele romane, privind recunoasterea in Romania a modificarilor de stare civila intervenite in Italia in favoarea unui barbat trans roman, cu cateva observatii scurte la final. 

Reclamantul X este un barbat trans, cetatean roman, care a emigrat in Italia. Printr-o hotarare pronuntata in 2008, Tribunalul Torino i-a autorizat cererea de a efectua un tratament de reatribuire chirurgicala a sexului. Dupa efectuarea acestui tratament, in cursul anului 2009, aceeasi instanta a pronuntat o hotarare prin care a aprobat cererea reclamantului de schimbare a sexului si a prenumelui in registrele de stare civila italiene. Ca urmare, Primaria orasului Torino a transcris actul de nastere romanesc si a inscris mentiunile necesare cu privire la sex si prenume. Ulterior, reclamantul a obtinut un act de identitate italian continand noile elemente de identitate.

Reclamantul a solicitat initial Serviciului de stare civila Y introducerea pe cale administrativa in registrul de stare civila roman a modificarilor survenite cu privire la prenume si sex in Italia. Serviciul de stare civila a comunicat cererea sa serviciului specializat din Ministerul Afacerilor Interne, care a raspuns in sensul ca, potrivit Regulamentului CE nr. 2201/2003 privind competenta, recunoasterea si executarea hotararilor judecatoresti in materie matrimoniala si in material raspundereii parintesti, se impune mai intai recunoasterea sentintelor de catre un tribunal, urmand ca ulterior sa se procedeze la inscrierea modificarilor in cauza in registrul de stare civila.

Ulterior, reclamantul a introdus o cerere in judecata pe rolul Tribunalului Y, solicitand Servicului de stare civila Y (intimatul) recunoasterea celor doua sentinte civile ale Tribunalului Torino si mentionarea modificarilor survenite in Italia pe actul sau de nastere, atribuirea unui cod numeric personal, ca si eliberarea unui nou certificat de nastere. Reclamantul a aratat ca actele de identitate romanesti expirasera si ca in acelasi timp cartea de identitate italiana era valabila doar pe teritoriul Italiei. Prin urmare, reclamantul nu avea posibilitatea sa calatoreasca in Romania pentru a-si vizita familia si prietenii. Pe de alta parte, el nu putea nici trimite o procura pentru intocmirea unor noi acte de identitate avand in vedere ca elementele de identitate pe care le avea in Italia nu coincideau cu cele inscrise in registrele de stare civila romane.

In motivarea sa, Tribunalul a subliniat ca instanta italiana nu a tinut seama de faptul ca reclamantul era cetatean roman, un element de extraneitate care ar fi trebuit sa atraga incidenta Regulamentului (CE) nr. 44/2001 privind competenta judiciara, recunoasterea si executarea hotararilor in materie civila si comerciala. Potrivit dispozitiilor relevante din acest Regulament, in conjunctie cu Art. 1079§1 Cod civil, cererea de autorizarea a schimbarii de sex e de competenta exclusiva a instantei romane, singura care putea “verifica date de fapt concrete din istoria personala a reclamantului, date relevante in solutionarea cererii sale, prin audierea, spre exemplu, a unor martori care il cunosteau inca din copilarie”. Tribunalul a apreciat ca “in lipsa unor informatii ample privind evolutia comportamentala si de ordin psihic a reclamant[ului], profundele modificari prin care acesta urma sa treaca si prin care a si trecut par a fi fost privite de catre instanta straina un simplu experiment complex, poate inedit, dar un experiment.” In acest sens, decizia de a modifica registrele de stare civila italiene nu poate avea nici un efect asupra inregistrarilor de stare civila efectuate in registrele publice romanesti. Desi a recunoscut ca reclamantul sufera de unele ‘inconveniente’, Tribunalul a facut pe de alta parte urmatoarele observatii:

“[acesta] nu se putea folosi pe teritoriul Romaniei de o alta identitate referitoare la sex decat cea decurgand din actele de stare civila romanesti insa incalcarea normelor de ordine publica nu poate fi justificata nici de necunoasterea legii (nemo censetur ignorare legem) si nici de argumentul unui fapt ireversibil deja implinit, ale carui consecinte reclamanta, sesizand o instanta necompetenta, cel mai probabil considerata mai ingaduitoare, si le-a asumat in mod exclusiv si deliberat. Fara a specula asupra solutiei pe care instantele romane ar fi pronuntat-o in cazul in care ar fi fost sesizate cu cererea reclamantei de autorizare a schimbarii de sex, instanta apreciaza ca admiterea cererii de recunoastere a hotararii pronuntate de o instanta necompetenta ar constitui un precedent perculos data fiind importanta normelor ocrotite.”

In consecinta, printr-o hotarare pronuntata pe 18 septembrie 2015, Tribunalul Y a respins actiunea ca nefondata.

Curtea de Apel, sesizata cu apelul reclamanatului, a decis ca Regulamentul CE 44/2001 nu este aplicabil in cauza, avand vedere definitia sferei sale materiale in Art. 2§1: “prezentul regulament nu se aplica pentru starea si capacitatea persoanelor fizice[…].” In continuare, Curtea a decis ca in speta sunt intrunite conditiile cumulative ale Art. 1096§1 Cod procedura civila, respectiv: hotararile a caror recunoastere se solicita sunt definitive potrivit legii statului unde au fost pronuntate, instanta care a pronuntat-o a avut, potrivit legii statului de sediu, competenta sa judece procesul si exista reciprocitate in ceea ce priveste efectele hotararilor straine intre Romania si statul instantei care a pronuntat hotararea. Mai mult decat atat, instanta a constatat ca in speta nu este incident vreun motiv de refuz al recunoasterii dintre cele mentionate in Art. 1097 Cod procedura civila. Indeosebi, cele doua hotarari italiene nu sunt contrare ordinii publice de drept international roman, avand in vedere faptul ca identitatea de gen este un aspect fundamental al dreptului la viata privata protejat de Art. 8 CEDO, iar CJUE a decis in mai multe cazuri ca discriminarea pe criteriul reatribuirii de gen este un aspect al discriminarii pe criteriul de sex. Prin urmare, printr-o decizie pronuntata pe 23 mai 2016, Curtea de Apel a admis apelul declarat de reclamant dispunand recunoasterea pe teritoriul Romaniei a hotararilor italiene in cauza.

Fara a comenta hotararile celor doua instante, iata cateva observatii succinte pe final. In primul rand, reclamantul a fost reprezentat in instanta de Domnul avocat Ciprian Finica, in timp ce eu am pus umarul la elaborarea argumentelor in apel. In al doilea rand, in apel am incercat trimiterea unor intrebari preliminare CJUE intemeiate pe legislatia UE privind dreptul la libera circulatie. Nu am reusit de aceasta data, pentru un pretext oarecum bizar. Oricum, ramane sa folosim argumentele pe care le-am construit acum cu alta ocazie. In al treilea rand, este de mentionat ca exista cel putin o alta hotarare de exequatur in aceeasi materie, prin care un alt tribunal roman a recunoscut o hotarare pronuntata in Olanda, facand paradoxal aplicarea Regulamentului 44/2001, declarat inaplicabil in prezenta speta. Pe de alta parte, aceasta cauza ar fi, cel putin dupa stiinta mea, prima in care o instanta romaneasca constata ca regulile privind schimbarea juridica a sexului in acte tine de ordinea publica de drept international roman, in contexul unei motivari foarte ostile. In fine, daca aceasta cauza priveste o persoana trans care a efectuat operatia chirurgicala de reatribuire de gen, ar fi deosebit de interesant sa testam apele cu un caz implicand o persoana care si-a schimbat actele FARA a efectua aceasta procedura medicala, beneficiind de reformele care au avut loc in aceasta privinta in mai multe tari europene. In acest sens, daca exista cineva cu acest profil care vrea sa-si schimbe actele in Romania si are nevoie de ajutor, il invit sa ma contacteze.



Friday, 22 July 2016

New publication on disability and access to justice

I am honoured to have an article published in the Routledge Handbook of Disability Law and Human Rights, along with contributions from other well-known academics specialising in disability rights, finally out now.

Constantin Cojocariu - Hit and Miss: Procedural Accommodations Ensuring the Effective Access of People with Mental Disabilities to the European Court of Human Rights

Here is the introduction of the article: 

Persons with mental disabilities in Eastern Europe suffer from high and well-documented rates of discrimination and abuse, which are often embedded in the law. Phenomena such as large-scale institutionalization or denial of legal capacity are frequently described as benevolent measures aimed at ensuring the welfare of those concerned. The advent of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (hereinafter referred to as the ‘CRPD’), widely ratified across Europe, highlighted these structural inequities and framed them as violations of basic human rights. The European Court of Human Rights (“hereinafter referred to as ‘the Court’), as the preeminent regional mechanism for human rights protection, would appear to hold great potential for those seeking to challenge the status quo and achieve systemic change. However, its output on disability rights to date has been quite limited and rather disappointing. The physical, social and economic barriers that hinder access to justice at all levels of the judicial system may at least partially explain this dearth of jurisprudence. At the same time, many disability cases that do reach the Court are dismissed on admissibility grounds, revealing a lack of comprehension on the part of the Strasbourg judges of the specificity of disability rights claims, or result in judgments that often replicate and legitimize the oppressive narratives and structural discrimination that are prevalent at the national level. A close inspection of the Court’s jurisprudence reveals how procedural devices such as “standing”, “material scope”, “legal representation”, “margin of appreciation”, “exhaustion of domestic remedies” have been used to render disability claims non-justiciable under the European Convention on Human Rights (hereinafter “the Convention”).  

This article examines recent jurisprudential developments on disability rights in an attempt to decipher whether disabled people benefit from “practical and effective” access to the Court. The relevant reference point is Article 13 of the CRPD on access to justice, which requires States Parties to “ensure effective access to justice for persons with disabilities on an equal basis with others, including through the provision of procedural […] accommodations, in order to facilitate their effective role […] in all legal proceedings.” For its part, the Court has also emphasized that “special procedural safeguards may prove called for in order to protect the interests of persons who, on account of their mental disabilities, are not fully capable of acting for themselves.” This article offers a practitioner’s perspective, based on the author’s ten-year experience of litigating high profile disability cases before the Court.

The first part of the article examines the concept of  “de facto representation” introduced for the first time recently in the case Câmpeanu v. Romania, and its potential implications for proxies seeking to introduce complaints on behalf of people with disabilities suffering from abuse, lacking relatives or other guardians and who are unable to instruct a lawyer. The second part of the article explores the manner in which the Court deals with disabled applicants unable to secure adequate legal representation. The Court’s practice in this respect has been quite diverse, revealing a deeper ambivalence in its jurisprudence towards measures that interfere with a person’s legal capacity in the form of partial or plenary guardianship. Finally, the last part looks more closely at some of the recent changes in the Court’s procedure, and in particular the ongoing move to tighten as well as enforce more strictly the admissibility criteria for individual petitions, likely to have a disproportionate impact on disabled applicants.

Monday, 28 March 2016

European Court delivers landmark judgment in disability discrimination case


On 22 March 2016, the European Court of Human Rights delivered a significant judgment in the case Guberina v. Croatia, concerning the discriminatory application of legal provisions in the area of taxation. The applicant in the case was the father of a severely disabled child, who used to live on the third floor of an apartment building that was inaccessible, due to lacking an elevator. Considering how difficult access to the building was, the applicant and his family sold the flat and bought a house that was fully accessible. 

The applicant requested to be exempted from paying the tax normally applicable to the purchase of a new property. He relied on a legal provision in Croatian law that granted such exemptions to those who bought a new property in order to solve their “housing needs”, in the sense that they did not already own a property with “basic infrastructure” and that “satisfied hygiene and technical requirements.” The applicant argued that since his old flat was inaccessible, it did not satisfy his family’s “housing needs” and that accessibility was a feature of “basic infrastructure.” However, national authorities and courts decided that the old flat possessed all basic infrastructure features and summarily dismissed the applicant’s request, without considering his son’s particular circumstances.

To start with, the European Court of Human Rights addressed the question of whether the applicant could claim discrimination based on his son’s disability. The Court clarified, for the first time in its jurisprudence, that “the alleged discriminatory treatment of the applicant on account of the disability of his child, with whom he has close personal links and for whom he provides care, is a form of disability based discrimination covered by Article 14 of the Convention.”

The Court agreed with the applicant in that accessibility was an element of basic infrastructure. In doing so, it highlighted the importance of accessibility to people with disabilities as a key to unlocking access to other fundamental rights:

“[lack of accessibility] severely impaired [the applicant’s] son’s mobility and consequently threatened his personal development and the ability to reach his maximum potential, making it extremely difficult for him to fully participate in the community and children’s educative, cultural and social activities. The absence of a lift must have impeded the quality of living of the applicant’s family and in particular his son to a similar extent that an able-bodied person would experience by, for example, having a flat on the third floor of a residential building without appropriate access to it or by having an impaired access to the relevant public utilities.”

The Court held that the authorities interpreted the meaning of “basic infrastructure" too restrictively, failing to take into account the specific needs of the applicant and his family. This was all the more so as Croatia was a party to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), and therefore Croatian authorities were under an obligation to take into consideration its principles, including “reasonable accommodation, accessibility and non-discrimination against persons with disabilities with regard to their full and equal participation in all aspects of social life.” The Court concluded that there was a breach of Article 14 of the European Convention (prohibition of discrimination) together with Article 1 of its Protocol 1 (right to property).

The Court’s robust approach in Guberina is remarkable, considering its generally conservative position in relation to disability, as well as the fact that housing and taxation are generally seen as areas of privileged State competence. This is the first case in which the Court has affirmed the importance of accessibility in the lives of persons with disabilities, leading to a finding of a breach of the Convention. This is also one of the very few judgments containing a fully-fledged argumentation under Art. 14 of the Convention prohibiting discrimination, introducing concepts such as ‘discrimination by association’ and ‘indirect discrimination’ for the first time in a disability context.  Finally, the Court’s willingness to rely on the CRPD in order to interpret the States’ obligations under the European Convention is noteworthy. The message that this case sends is that state institutions should actively consider the implications of seemingly neutral legal provisions on the lives of people with disabilities and make the necessary changes accordingly, in order to ensure their social inclusion and avoid discrimination.

The judgment is available at this link.

Vesna Terhaj, a Croatian lawyer, and Constantin Cojocariu, a London-based Romanian lawyer, represented the applicant in his case before the Strasbourg court.