STANEV V. BULGARIA (GC)
Tuesday, January 17, 2012
Tribunal:European Court of Human Rights
Keywords:legal capacity, guardianship, ill-treatment, detention, access to court, remedy
Rights and Decision:
In 2000, Mr Rusi Stanev (‘the applicant’) was placed under partial guardianship by a Bulgarian court and a municipal employee was appointed as his guardian. In 2002, without ever having met Mr Stanev, she had him placed in a social care institution in a remote mountainous area 400km from his home. Once there, the director of the institution became his guardian and controlled all of his affairs. The conditions in the institution, as documented by the Council of Europe Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT), were unliveable. The amount of food was inadequate, the residents had to sleep in their coats in the winter due to the lack of heat, and the sanitary facilities were nothing more than holes in the ground in wooded areas outside the buildings of the institution. Mr Stanev had no ability to challenge this situation as he could not initiate any type of legal proceedings, including a proceeding to have his guardianship lifted, without his guardian’s consent.
The European Court of Human Rights (‘the Court’) found that Mr Stanev’s placement in the social care institution, against his will and for an independent period of time, on the order of a government employee, meant that Mr Stanev had clearly experienced a deprivation of his liberty, a violation of Article 5(1) ECHR. The Court went on to state that a need for social assistance, such as was clear in Mr Stanev’s case, should not automatically lead to measures involving deprivation of liberty. It was the presence of a mental health condition which had led directly to the decision to place Mr Stanev in the home, and this was not a sufficient justification under the European Convention of Human Rights. The system of guardianship in Bulgaria meant that Mr Stanev had no realisable right to challenge the lawfulness of his detention in the Bulgarian courts (Article 5(4) ECHR). His legal standing to do so had been removed at the time he had been placed under guardianship, which the Court found to be a breach of his rights under this article. Given that Mr Stanev’s right to liberty had unlawfully been restricted, the Court went on to assess whether he would be able to have this situation recognised and compensated under Bulgarian law. The Court found that this was not the case, due to Mr Stanev’s status as a person under guardianship, and the Bulgarian government had breached his right to compensation (Article 5(5) ECHR). The Court found that the living conditions Mr Stanev had to endure for seven years amounted to degrading treatment, relying on the report of the CPT. There was no suggestion of intent on behalf of the authorities to inflict degrading treatment, but nevertheless, the material conditions of the institution had resulted in this damage to Mr Stanev. Thus the Court found his right to freedom from degrading treatment (Article 3 ECHR) had been violated. The Court held that Mr Stanev’s inability to access a court to review the restrictions on his legal capacity, which restricted many other rights, violated the right to a fair trial under Article 6(1) ECHR. The Court found that, in addition to the breach of Mr Stanev’s substantive rights under the European Convention, Bulgaria also did not provide a remedy for the degrading treatment he had suffered, or for the unlawful denial of his right to a fair trial. This lack of remedy constituted a breach of Article 13 ECHR. The Court ordered that Mr Stanev should be asked whether he wished to remain in the home and if not a re-examination of his situation should be carried out. The Bulgarian government should also ensure that Mr Stanev would be provided with the opportunity to apply directly to Bulgarian courts for a review of the restriction of his legal capacity, following its judgment on the point made on right to fair hearing, Article 6(1) ECHR. This statement was supported by Article 46 ECHR, asserting the binding force of the judgment on Bulgaria.
Remedy and what happened after the judgement:
The court ordered Bulgaria to pay Mr Stanev EUR 15,000 for the human rights violations he suffered.
The Grand Chamber’s judgment in Stanev broke new ground in the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights. Finding for the first time that conditions in a social care institution constituted inhuman and degrading treatment, the Court also found that involuntary placement in a social care institution by a guardian constituted deprivation of liberty. However, the Court failed to address numerous violations of Mr Stanev’s rights related directly to his institutionalisation and placement under guardianship, including his right to a private and family life.
Third parties involved:
Bulgarian Helsinki Committee