The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that the Russian authorities’ removal of parental rights from a mother with a drug addiction constituted a violation of her Article 8 right to respect for a family and private life.
The applicant in this case was a Russian national with three children. She was arrested in October 2013 for drug trafficking. When she was interviewed by police, she admitted to having a drug addiction and that she had taken heroin within the last month. Her oldest child was subsequently taken to stay with his father, while her other two children were placed in a children’s home and then foster care.
In April 2014, the applicant was found guilty of drug trafficking and sentenced to 6 years in prison. In January of that year, a domestic court had issued an order depriving her of her parental authority. In their view, due to her drug addiction and unemployed status, it was too dangerous to leave the children in her care. Both this court and the appeal court rejected as irrelevant the evidence that she had started a rehabilitation programme and had found a job. The cassation court (Presidium of Moscow City) upheld the lower courts’ decisions and reasoning.
The applicant then lodged a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights, alleging a violation of Article 8. She argued that the actions of the Russian domestic courts were disproportionate as she had been automatically deprived her of her parental rights, without consideration of mitigating factors or less drastic measures.
There was no dispute that the actions of the Russian courts interfered with the applicant’s right to respect for family life. Even though the aim of such actions was legitimate in protecting the interests of the applicant’s children, the Court said that splitting up a family was a radical measure and could only be justified in exceptional circumstances. The Court conceded that the applicant’s drug addiction and unemployed status were relevant considerations in the case but not sufficient to justify such extreme measures. Moreover, the domestic courts ignored the evidence presented by the applicant that she was working to overcome her addiction, even when this was apparently the sole reason her parental rights had been removed. In addition, the Russian courts did not explain why having financial difficulties meant that the applicant could not properly take care of her children. They also ignored the fact that the children were very attached to their mother and failed to consider the negative effect of being unable to contact her.
The Court concluded that the Russian authorities had failed to demonstrate that the removal of the applicant’s parental authority was the most appropriate way to protect her children’s best interests, especially when other less drastic alternatives were available. Thus, Russia had violated Article 8 of the Convention.
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