Thursday, 14 December 2017

Important development in the area of mental health detention from the European Court of Human Rights

The European Court of Human Rights’ recent ruling in the case N. v. Romania (decided on 28 November) has important implications in the areas of mental health detention and community living. The applicant was a man diagnosed with schizophrenia who complained about the legality of his detention in various psychiatric hospitals since 2001, on account of unsubstantiated sexual assault allegations that had never been reviewed in court. On 28 November 2017, the Court ruled that his detention lacked a legal basis or justification at least since 2007 (the Court declined to examine the period before 2007, including the initial decision to detain the applicant, for reasons of admissibility). In addition, the Court held that the judicial proceedings for the review of the applicant’s continued detention since 2007 had not afforded sufficient safeguards against arbitrariness. Consequently, the Court found several breaches of Article 5 (right to liberty) of the European Convention on Human Rights and awarded the applicant 38,050 Euro in damages and costs. This is a brief analysis of the main points of interest in the judgment.

The Court criticized the authorities’ failure to undergo a “rigorous” assessment of the applicant’s needs or secure his release in conditions that matched those needs despite a judicial order ending his compulsory hospitalization issued at the beginning of 2017. The Court remarked that this case was symptomatic of a systemic problem in Romania in that there was a lack of social services to assist people transitioning from institutional living. Despite the authorities’ formal adherence to international norms advocating for community living, there was a failure to provide the applicant with suitable services upon his release. In view of these circumstances, the Court took the unusual step of demanding that the applicant be released “without delay […] in conditions meeting his needs.” These findings and the wording of the remedial measure create a crucial new opening in the Court’s jurisprudence in this area, suggesting that Article 5 may be construed to imply a positive obligation incumbent in State Parties to provide the community services needed facilitate the release of individuals from unjustified mental health detention.

The Court also noted the superficial manner in which national courts reviewed the necessity of the applicant’s ongoing detention between 2007 and 2017. In particular, they failed to establish the main criterion in domestic law for detention of this type, namely that the person in question represented a danger to society. National courts impermissibly inferred the existence of danger from allegations of sexual assault that had never been proven in court and from the applicant’s diagnosis in itself. In that respect, the Court recalled under Article 14 of the CRPD, “the existence of a disability could not in itself justify a deprivation of liberty.” The successive sets of proceedings on review were flawed for a number of additional reasons. Notably, the Court criticized the ineffectual performance of the ex officio lawyers appointed to represent the applicant through the years, who had either argued in favor of his continued detention or had left the matter to the discretion of the courts, and never got in touch with him before the hearings took place.

The Court warned that these deficiencies were likely to give rise to other well-founded applications in the future. It therefore indicated additional general measures to the Romanian State: to ensure that the detention of individuals in psychiatric hospitals was lawful, justified and not arbitrary; and to ensure that any individuals detained in such institutions are entitled to take proceedings affording adequate safeguards with a view to securing a speedy court decision on the lawfulness of their detention. The Court uses its power to indicate individual or general remedial measures under Article 46 of the Convention on an exceptional basis, in cases that highlight systemic or structural problems with the potential to generate significant numbers of similar complaints in the future.

The judgment is infused with references to the CRPD and the work of the CRPD Committee. The Court cited with approval Article 14 of the CRPD (“liberty and security of the person”), the CRPD Committee’s statement of interpretation on Article 14, its Marlon James Noble v. Australia decision, with facts that are strikingly similar to those in N. v. Romania, as well as Article 19 (“living independently and being included in the community”). Thus, the N. v. Romania ruling is another step in the process of reconciling the two human rights instruments, including with respect to such divisive issues as mental health detention. Also notable is the Court’s willingness to highlight the systemic underpinnings of the violations found and indicate individual and general remedial measures to the Romanian State. The Court had previously made similar use of its remedial powers in another disability case originating from Romania, Centre for Legal Resources on behalf of Valentin Campeanu, decided in 2014, urging the Romanian authorities to “envisage the necessary general measures to ensure that mentally disabled persons […] are afforded independent representation, enabling them to have Convention complaints relating to their health and treatment examined before a court or other independent body.” These two judgments, in addition to other jurisprudence, constitute a strong platform that Romanian advocates may use to push for badly needed reform in the areas of access to justice and deinstitutionalization.   

The Court’s judgment (in French) is available here:

The press release (in English) is available here:

The applicants in N. v. Romania, as well as in Valentin Campeanu v. Romania, were represented by Constantin Cojocariu, a lawyer licensed to practice in Romania and based in London.

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 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.