The temporary deprivation of child custody from addict parents did not violate their right to family life. But the deprivation of their communication with their child violated that right.

JUDGMENT

Κ.Ο. and V.M.  v. Norway 19.11.2019 (no. 64808/16)

see here

SUMMARY 

Official decisions to take a couple’s daughter into care a few weeks after her birth in 2015 and their limited contact rights. The family were ultimately reunited in 2018.

The Court found that the authorities had conducted an in-depth examination of the case with regard
to the care order and that the related procedure had provided sufficient protection for the
applicants’ interests.

In contrast, the authorities’ decisions on contact rights had, at a very early stage in the procedure,
been based on the assumption that the family would not be reunited because it was considered that
the foster care would be for the long-term. Moreover, the authorities had not explained why it had
been contrary to the daughter’s best interests to see her parents more often, even though there had
been positive feedback on the family’s interaction during visits.

PROVISION 

Article 8

PRINCIPAL FACTS 

The applicants, Mr K.O. and Ms V.M., are Norwegian nationals who were born in 1974 and 1986
respectively.

When the applicants’ daughter was born, in January 2015, the child welfare services arranged for
Ms V.M. to stay at a family centre, given concerns about her mental health, drug abuse and
domestic disputes with Mr K.O.. After a few weeks, Ms V.M. apparently withdrew her consent to
stay at the centre and the child welfare services decided to place the applicants’ daughter in care on
an emergency basis.

Those services then applied to the County Social Welfare Board requesting that the child be placed
in a foster home. In May 2015 the Board, comprised of a lawyer qualified to act as a professional
judge, two psychologists and two laypeople, granted the request. The Board heard 11 witnesses over
two days and the parents were present and represented by counsel. The Board concluded that it
would be in the child’s best interests to be placed in a foster home.

The applicants unsuccessfully challenged the decisions on emergency and foster care in court.
In particular, in December 2015 the City Court, comprised of a professional judge, a lay person and a
psychologist, concluded that the applicants presented a number of risks, making it inadvisable to return their daughter to them. The court found that both parents had had a history of drug abuse, psychological problems and domestic disputes. Previous attempts to help them overcome their problems had been unsuccessful and they had had difficulties in cooperating with the welfare
authorities. The father had also been convicted of serious crimes, including violence and threats.

Both the Board and the City Court considered that the foster care would be long-term and therefore
that it would not be in the child’s interests for the applicants to be given extensive contact rights.
However, the City Court increased the visits fixed by the Board to two hours, six times per year in
view of the positive feedback on interaction during previous contact sessions.

The child was ultimately returned to her parents following a decision by the City Court in March
2018 to lift the care order. The City Court noted two expert reports that the parents’ ability to care
for the child was good and stable and that they had agreed to assistance measures.

THE DECISION OF THE COURT

First, the Court found that the domestic decision-making process on foster care, both before the
Board and the City Court, had been comprehensive, with the applicants being able to fully present
their case. The couple had also been able to lodge an application to have the care order lifted
12 months after the courts had considered their case, which had ultimately been successful. The
national procedure had therefore protected the applicants’ interests to the requisite extent.

Furthermore, the Court was satisfied that the authorities had conducted an in-depth examination of
the case in respect of the care order, looking at the applicants’ history of problems and whether a
less drastic measure than taking their daughter into care could be used. They had, however, found
that that would have been impractical, bearing in mind previous attempts to help the applicants and
their difficulties in co-operating with the child welfare authorities.

In sum, the Court found that the reasons for taking the applicants’ daughter into care had been
“relevant and sufficient” and that the interference with their right to family life had not been
disproportionate. There had therefore been no violation of Article 8.

In contrast, the Board and City Court had never seriously contemplated the family’s reunification in
their decisions on the applicants’ contact rights, implicitly giving up that possibility at a very early
stage because they considered that the placement would be on a long-term basis.

The Court emphasised that if there were to be a prospect of reunifying a family in the future, there
could not be intervals of weeks, or even, as in the applicants’ case, months between each contact
session. Indeed, the decisions on contact rights in their case had simply stated that the purpose of
the visits was for the daughter to know who her parents were.

The daughter had, ultimately, been returned to her parents. Yet neither the Board nor the City Court
had explained, other than in general terms that the child needed stability, why it had been contrary
to her best interests to see her parents more often, especially in view of the fact that feedback on
their interaction had been positive.

The Court therefore held that there had been a violation of Article 8 as concerned the restrictions on
contact between the applicant couple and their daughter.

Just satisfaction (Article 41)

The Court held that Norway was to pay the applicants 10,000 euros (EUR) in respect of
non-pecuniary damage and EUR 2,300 in respect of costs and expenses(echrcaselaw.com).


ECHRCaseLaw

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