The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has rejected a disabled man’s complaints that Finland violated his rights under the European Convention on Human Rights (the Convention) by preventing him from being able to freely choose where to reside in Finland. A mentor appointed to the man had decided that it was in the man’s best interests to remain in the municipality in which he was born.
By way of background, the applicant is an intellectually disabled Finnish man who, as a minor, was placed with a foster family in 2001 and moved from the south of Finland to the north. The foster family arranged to put the applicant in a vocational school some distance from their village without authorisation - as a result, Finnish authorities removed the applicant from their care and returned him to Southern Finland, to live in a children’s home. After the man turned 18 in 2008, a mentor was appointed to decide on the question of where he was to live. The man had attempted to re-join his old foster family in the north, and a local court ruled that as a result of his diminished mental faculties, he was unable to look after his own interests. The man’s mentor decided the applicant had to live in his hometown near his biological family as he would be offered better educational opportunities. The man applied to have his mentor replaced insofar as questions of his residence and education were concerned, but this application was rejected by the Finnish courts as the mentor was held to be acting in his best interests, even though the man’s personal preferences had been disregarded.
The applicant made a complaint to the ECtHR under Article 8 of the Convention, on the right to private life, and Article 2, Protocol 4 to the Convention on freedom of movement. He submitted that he did not deny that he needed a mentor, but contested that the mentor should not be entitled to prevent him from deciding where to live, and with whom.
The ECtHR said it would take account of the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD), which was ratified by Finland in 2016, and of Council of Europe Instruments on persons with disabilities. Focusing on Article 8 of the Convention, the Court held that the interference with the applicant’s right to respect for private life was in accordance with Finnish law, as the relevant legislation was intended to protect the rights and interests of persons who cannot take care of their own affairs due to incapacity. The ECtHR found that the applicant was unable to understand the consequences of moving to Northern Finland, and as such Finnish authorities were entitled to disregard his wishes and take a decision in his best interests. This action was held to be a proportionate interference with the applicant’s rights as the system contained sufficient safeguards against abuse. The ECtHR also found no violation of Article 2, Protocol 4, while emphasising the need for local authorities to balance respect for dignity and individual self-determination with the need to safeguard the best interests of the individual.
Analysis of the decision has noted that the Court had not expressly considered Article 19 of the CRPD, which guarantees the right to live independently.
Click here for the judgment in AMV v Finland.