Addicted mother of three. Removal of parental authority was disproportionate and violated her family life

JUDGMENT

Y.I. v. Russia 25.2.2020 (no. 68868/14)

see here

SUMMARY

The case concerned the applicant’s complaint about being deprived of her parental authority in
respect of her three children because she was a drug addict. Drug addiction is a ground for removing
parental authority under the Russian Family Code, and entailed her losing all contact rights.

The Court found in particular that the national courts had not sufficiently justified taking such a
drastic measure, even though there were less radical solutions available under domestic law. Nor
had they taken into consideration that she had no history of neglecting her children, had started
rehabilitation and had not apparently been given any warnings about or support for her drug
problems.

PROVISION

Article 8

PRINCIPAL FACTS

The applicant, Y.I., is a Russian national who was born in 1980 and lives in Moscow. She has three
children by two fathers, who were born in 1999, 2011 and 2012.

On 8 October 2013 the applicant was arrested at her home on suspicion of drug trafficking. She was
taken to the police station and interviewed, admitting to having started taking drugs in 2004. She
had stopped in 2010 before giving birth to her two youngest children, but had relapsed and been
taking heroin for the past month.

The children were immediately taken into public care. Her eldest child was subsequently taken to
stay with his father. The two youngest children, whose father had been arrested at the same time as
the applicant, were initially placed in a children’s home and were then transferred to a foster family
where they have remained ever since.

In April 2014 she was found guilty of drug trafficking and sentenced to six years’ imprisonment.
In the meantime, in January 2014, the domestic courts had deprived her of parental authority,
deciding that it would be dangerous to leave the children in her care. The courts referred in
particular to her drug addiction and the fact that she was unemployed. In her defence, the applicant
argued, providing evidence, that she had started rehabilitation treatment and found a job. The firstinstance court rejected this argument as irrelevant, while the appeal court found that it had been received after the first-instance judgment.

In cassation proceedings the Presidium of the Moscow City Court upheld the lower courts’
judgments, endorsing their reasoning.

THE DECISION OF THE COURT…

It was not in dispute that depriving the applicant of her parental authority had constituted an
interference with her right to respect for family life. That interference had been based on Article 69
of the Russian Family Code and had been intended to protect the rights of the applicant’s children.
The Court reiterated that splitting up a family was a very serious interference. Such a measure could
only be justified in exceptional circumstances, the overriding requirement being a child’s best
interests.

The Court was prepared to accept that the applicant’s drug addiction and her being unemployed had
been relevant considerations in deciding to remove her parental authority, but it was not convinced
that they had been sufficient to justify taking such a drastic measure.

First, the domestic courts had chosen to ignore the evidence provided by the applicant that she
intended to and had taken steps to resolve her drug addiction. The Court found such an approach
striking, when the main, if not only, reason for removing her parental authority had been her
addiction.

As concerned the fact that she had been unemployed, it found that financial difficulties could not in
themselves be sufficient grounds for severing a parent-child bond. The court decisions had not
explained how her being unemployed had affected her ability to take care of her children.
Furthermore, inspections of the family flat carried out in the months after her arrest had not
revealed any real defects in their living conditions, in fact the latest report had shown
improvements.

The domestic courts had not given due consideration either to the fact that the applicant had
consistently expressed her attachment to her children throughout the proceedings and had provided
evidence showing that she had taken care of them prior to their removal and had made efforts to
maintain contact afterwards. It had at the same time been shown that the children were deeply
attached to their mother and their maternal grandmother, who had been living with them in the
family flat. Indeed, the courts had not assessed at all the impact of the separation on the children Above all, the Court found it surprising that the authorities had not considered any less drastic
measure, even though less radical solutions were available under the law and the applicant had no
history of neglecting her children. Moreover, the childcare authorities had only started monitoring
the family after her arrest in October 2013 and had neither given her any warnings about her
behaviour and its consequences nor made any attempt to provide her with support.

In conclusion, the domestic authorities had failed to show that removing her parental authority had
been the most appropriate option in the children’s best interests. The measure had therefore been
disproportionate, in violation of Article 8 of the Convention.

Just satisfaction (Article 41)

The Court held that Russia was to pay the applicant 20,000 euros (EUR) in respect of non-pecuniary
damage.


ECHRCaseLaw

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