About me

In the past ten years I have worked as a lawyer taking strategic legal cases to the European Court of Human Rights, first on behalf of the European Roma Rights Centre in Budapest, Hungary (2005-2007) and then of Interights, in London, United Kingdom (2007-2014). Since 2014, I have been working on my own as a freelance lawyer based in London, focusing mostly on disability and transgender rights. This is a selection of the highlights of my human rights career so far, mostly the good ones, but also some of the bad. Litigation before the European Court of Human Rights is a long and arduous process, with cases changing hands several times over their lifetimes. I listed here cases that I had a substantial contribution to (in some, like Câmpeanu, I was the sole lawyer in the case from the beginning to the end), but it goes without saying that many other (wonderful) people were also involved.

Hate crime

Šečić v Croatia (2007) – this case concerned the beating of a Roma man collecting scrap metal by a group of skinheads and the authorities’ failure to investigate the incident properly. The authorities failed even to identify the perpetrators, although they had been on TV bragging about their crime. This was the first time when the Court extended the procedural obligation to investigate the racist connotations of a crime when committed by a private individual, as opposed to police forces.

Đorđević v Croatia (2012) – this case concerned the harassment and abuse perpetrated by a group of teenagers against a man with multiple physical and mental disabilities (Dalibor) and his mother (Radmila) over a period of several years and the authorities’ failure to protect them. This was the first time the Court documented in detail a disability hate crime case, leading to a finding of a breach of the Convention. The slowly escalating violence and harassment is described in great detail, occurring in and around the applicants’ ground floor flat. They were assaulted on account of disability, but also because they were Serbian ethnics. The Court’s ruling has some interesting points regarding for example Radmila’s position as a victim by association, or the nature of the obligations incumbent on the state where perpetrators are below the criminal responsibility age, which had previously been their excuse for inaction. The last I heard about the applicants’ situation, the harassment had apparently stopped after the Court’s ruling. Unfortunately since Radmila passed away in 2013, Dalibor was at risk of being placed in an institution.

Stoica v Romania (2008) and Cobzaru v Romania (2007) – these were police ill treatment cases with Romani victims. Stoica concerned the beating of a disabled youth during a raid carried out in a rural Roma community. Cobzaru was a case of ill treatment in custody. In both cases, the Court decided that there was a breach of the prohibition of discrimination under Article 14, an increasingly rare occurrence in its jurisprudence lately. In Stoica, the Court accurately identified the racist animus behind the raid, as well as the authorities’ failure to conduct an adequate investigation. In Cobzaru, the Court remarkably found that the investigating authorities displayed “a general discriminatory attitude” towards the victim.

Disability rights

Center for Legal Resources on behalf of Valentin Câmpeanu v Romania (2014) – This is probably the most important case I have been involved in, and the one I am most attached to. It was about the death in miserable conditions of a young intellectually disabled HIV positive orphaned young man at the infamous Poiana Mare Psychiatric Hospital. At the time when I started working on the application in this case, most experts whom I talked to gave me little chances of persuading the Court to hear the case, due to its restrictive standing criteria. Many years and hundreds of pages later, the Grand Chamber recognised for the first time that NGOs should be allowed to bring cases on behalf of people like Câmpeanu who died in suspicious circumstances, and who lacked any relatives or other guardians capable to act on their behalf.  The judgment shed light on the horrendous abuses that take place routinely in institutions for people with mental health disabilities in Romania, reflecting at the same time the complete absence of any mechanisms to secure accountability.

D.D. v Lithuania (2012) – the applicant was a kind and intelligent woman with mental disabilities, whom I met in 2008, when I visited her at the institution where she lived against her will. Her adoptive father arranged to have her deprived of her legal capacity and placed in an institution for an indeterminate period of time, ostensibly for her own good. This is one of the very few judgments highlighting the conflict of interest that may exist between a disabled applicant and their family members, and its consequences in a fair trial context. As a result of the judgment, the Lithuanian authorities declared the decision to incapacitate D.D. null and void and released her from the institution, after eight years in captivity.

Farcaș v Romania (2010)  - the applicant suffered from progressive muscular dystrophy, substantially impairing his mobility. He had been dismissed from his job as an electrician, which he was holding for 20 years, and he sought to challenge his employer’s failure to offer reasonable accommodation in national courts. In his complaint to the European Court, the applicant argued that his fair trial rights were breached in that the court buildings in his town were inaccessible to persons with physical disabilities. After organising a public hearing on 27 April 2010, the Court dismissed his complaint as inadmissible, under the pretext that equal access to justice did not necessarily require the applicant to access court facilities in person, and that he could act through a proxy or correspond with courts through mail. This judgment, with its skewed understanding of equality reinforcing the exclusion from society of persons with disabilities, has been widely and rightly criticised.

Romanian anti-Roma pogrom cases

Moldovan and others v. Romania (Nos. 1 and 2) (2005) – the first and most prominent pogrom cases, concerning the killing by a mob of three Roma men and the destruction through arson of 14 houses in the village of Hădăreni village, located in central Romania, the degrading conditions the victims who had to flee their homes were forced into, and the discriminatory legal proceedings conducted at the national level. The rulings were remarkable in that the victims finally received confirmation of their plight from a highly authoritative forum, as well as a modicum of redress. The judgment on the merits included a striking finding that discrimination among judges and prosecutors was so serious as to amount to inhuman and degrading treatment. At the same time, its potential was somewhat stunted by the fact that the pogrom took place outside the Court’s temporal jurisdiction, which explains at least partially the somewhat superficial manner in which the Court described the facts. The implementation of the judgment has been protracted and flawed, with proceedings still open at the national level and in Strasbourg before the Committee of Ministers.

Lăcătuş and others v Romania (2012) – this is a spin-off from the main Moldovan proceedings, concerning Voichița (Rostaș) Lăcătuș, whose husband and brother were killed during the Hădăreni pogrom, and her two daughters.  The Court reached a decision in this case in 2012, seven years after the Moldovan judgments were delivered.

Gergely v Romania and Kalanyos and others v Romania (2007)

Iren Gergely was one of the many victims of a pogrom, which took place in 1990 in the village of Caşinul Nou, during which Hungarian ethnics chased the Roma community away and burnt their houses. The Kalanyos case involved three of the victims of another pogrom that took place in the neighbouring village of Plaieșii de Sus in 1991, following a similar pattern – the houses of the Roma villagers were destroyed, the Roma were chased away, some were beaten up and one was killed. These were among the first cases to be decided on the basis of a unilateral statement of responsibility lodged by the Government, a device that has since became more common. We fought long and hard against these statements, as the Government refused our demands that a remedy be provided to all those affected by the pogroms, not only to the applicants. One of the main drawbacks of litigation in these cases was the fact that only a tiny minority of the victims initially agreed to be involved, out of fear of retaliation or for other reasons. I remember having been very impressed by the four applicants, who refused the State’s offer for compensation and asked instead for a judgment on the merits clearly stating the state’s responsibility for the pogroms. Unfortunately, most victims continue to live in dire poverty in segregated informal housing on the edge of their villages, without any recognition of their plight.

(with Sandor Kalanyos, Iren Gergely, Istvan Rozsa, Tamas Kalanyos in Tusnad, Romania, 2007)

Transgender rights

Hämäläinen v Finland (2014) – This case concerned the requirement imposed on the applicant, a transgender woman, to renounce her marriage before being recognised in her self-identified gender identity. I got involved in this case after the Chamber delivered a very poor ruling, obtained a referral to the Grand Chamber, which however decided again against the applicant. That decision turned on the Court’s established position on same-sex marriage, but was also due to the peculiar situation in Finland, where, as opposed to other countries, the applicant had the fall-back option of entering a registered partnership very similar to marriage. Despite this disappointing outcome, Hämäläinen provided welcome focus on transgender rights after a long period during which very few cases reached the Court. At the same time, a minority of the Court came very strongly in the applicant’s favour, in an opinion that may prove influential down the line. Shortly after the Hämäläinen judgment, the Finnish Parliament upheld a popular initiative to legalise same-sex marriage, which means that once the new changes come into force Heli Hämäläinen will be able to obtain legal gender recognition without having to give up her marriage.

(with Heli Hämäläinen and Vesselina Vandova in Strasbourg, France 2014)

Right to housing

Cazacliu and others v Romania – this case concerned the forced eviction in 2006 of a group of Roma families from a block of flats that they occupied informally for several years and their relocation by the Tulcea Municipality to an abandoned building on the outskirts of town and respectively to container housing placed on a former rubbish tip. I documented this case from the beginning, immediately after the eviction took place, and then returned regularly to Tulcea to monitor the situation of the community.  I developed a strategy to take the case to court, which eventually resulted, in 2014, in the first, and to date the only, final judgment by a Romanian court ordering a local authority to pay damages for its failure to provide a Roma community with adequate housing. A related complaint is currently pending before the European Court, awaiting adjudication. 

(People sleeping rough in Tulcea, days after having been evicted from their homes)

Selected publications

§  Hit and miss: Procedural accommodations ensuring the effective access of applicants with mental disabilities to the European Court of Human Rights, in Research Companion on Disability Law, Ashgate [forthcoming]
§  Contributed the chapters on the Council of Europe for the European Yearbook of Disability Law, Volume 3, Intersentia, 2012 and Volume 5, Intersentia 2015
§  Hämäläinen v Finland - Preview of the judgment by Constantin Cojocariu, ECHR Sexual Orientation Blog, 11 July 2014
§  Lawyering on the Margins, Interights Bulletin, 17.3, 2013 (co-editor)
§  Challenging Violations of the Right to Water before the European Court of Human Rights, Housing and ESC Rights Law Quarterly, Vol. 5 – No.1,

Selected professional activities

§  Member for Romania of the European Commission on Sexual Orientation Law since 2008
§  Panellist - Gender Identity and Intersexuality, International conference Rights on the Move: Rainbow families in Europe, Trento, Italy (2014)
§  Panellist - Mainstreaming Diversity: Rewriting Judgments of the European Court of Human Rights conference, Strasbourg, France (2011)
§  Panellist - Identifying Rights and Identities: Sexual Minorities in the Balkans, Belgrade, Serbia (2011)
§  Panellist - Justice in the Balkans: Equality for Sexual Minorities, Podgorica, Montenegro (2009)
§  Panellist - The Global Arc of Justice: LGBT Rights Around the World, Los Angeles, United States (2009)

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