331
16.6.2005

 

Press release issued by the Registrar

 

CHAMBER JUDGMENT St. v. GERMANY

 

The European Court of Human Rights has today notified in writing a Chamber judgment[1] in the case of St. v. Germany (application no. 61603/00).

 

The Court held unanimously that there had been:

 

·        a violation of Article 5 § 1 (right to liberty and security) and Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life) of the European Convention on Human Rights concerning the applicant’s placement in a private clinic from 1977 to 1979;

·        no violation of Articles 5 and 8 of the Convention concerning the applicant’s stay in a private clinic in 1981;

·        no violation of Article 8 concerning the applicant’s medical treatment in a university clinic;

·        no violation of Article 6 § 1 (right to a fair hearing).

 

Under Article 41 (just satisfaction), the Court awarded the applicant 75,000 euros (EUR) for non-pecuniary damage and EUR 18,315 for costs and expenses. (The judgment is available only in English.)

 

1.  Principal facts

 

The applicant, St., is a German national, who was born in 1958 and lives in N. (Germany). She has spent almost 20 years of her life in psychiatric institutions and hospitals.

 

In particular the applicant was placed in a locked ward of a private psychiatric clinic from 29 July 1977 to 5 April 1979 at her father’s request, following various family conflicts. The applicant, who had at that time attained her majority, had not been placed under guardianship and had never signed a declaration that she had consented to her placement in the institution. Neither had there had been a judicial decision authorising her detention in a psychiatric hospital. The applicant repeatedly tried to flee from the clinic, and was brought back by force by the police on 4 March 1979. After receiving medical treatment for schizophrenia at the clinic, she developed a post-poliomyelitis syndrome. She is today 100 % disabled. From 1980 to 1991/1992 she lost the ability to speak.

 

In 1994 an expert report found that the applicant had never suffered from schizophrenia and that her behaviour had been caused by conflicts with her family. On 12 February 1997, the applicant, on the basis of that expert report, brought an action before Bremen Regional Court against the private clinic for compensation for the damage caused by her detention and treatment there between 1977 and 1979.

 

On 9 July 1998 Bremen Regional Court allowed the applicant’s action for damages, as her detention had been illegal under German law. It notably found that the applicant had not consented to her detention and treatment in the clinic.

 

On 22 December 2000 Bremen Court of Appeal quashed the judgment of Bremen Regional Court and dismissed the applicant’s action. It found that the applicant’s compensation claim in tort, even assuming an illegal deprivation of liberty, was time-barred, because the applicant could have brought proceedings at an earlier stage. Furthermore, the Court of Appeal found that the applicant did not have a compensation claim on a contractual basis either.

 

On 15 January 2002 the Federal Court of Justice refused to admit the applicant’s appeal. On 6 March 2002 the Federal Constitutional Court refused to admit the applicant’s constitutional complaint.

 

The applicant brought further unsuccessful proceedings for compensation for damage caused by her stay and medical treatment in the private clinic and by her treatment in a university clinic.

 

2.  Procedure and composition of the Court

 

The application was lodged with the European Court of Human Rights on 15 May 2000 and was declared partly admissible on 26 October 2004.

 

Judgment was given by a Chamber of seven judges, composed as follows:

 

Ireneu Cabral Barreto (Portuguese), President,
Georg Ress (German),
Lucius Caflisch (Swiss)[2],
Riza Türmen (Turkish),
Boštjan M. Zupančič (Slovenian),
Margarita Tsatsa-Nikolovska (citizen of “the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”),
Alvina Gyulumyan (Armenian), judges,

and also Vincent Berger, Section Registrar.

 

3.  Summary of the judgment[3]

 

Complaints

 

The applicant complained under Article 5, Article 6 § 1 and Article 8 of the Convention concerning her placement and medical treatment in the private clinic, about her treatment in the university clinic, and about the fairness of the ensuing proceedings.

 

Decision of the Court

 

Article 5 §§ 1, 4 and 5 with respect to the applicant’s placement in a private clinic from 1977 to 1979

The Court found that the applicant, who had notably tried to flee from the clinic on several occasions, had not agreed to her continued stay there and had therefore been deprived of her liberty within the meaning of Article 5 § 1.

 

The Court found Germany to be responsible for that deprivation of liberty in three respects. Firstly, the authorities became actively involved in the applicant’s placement in the clinic when the police, by use of force, had brought her back to the clinic from which she had fled. Secondly, the national courts, in the compensation proceedings brought by the applicant, had failed to interpret the provisions of civil law relating to her claim in the spirit of Article 5. Thirdly, Germany had violated its existing positive obligation to protect the applicant against interferences with her liberty carried out by private individuals.

 

As there had been no court order authorising the applicant’s confinement to the private clinic, her detention had not been lawful within the meaning of Article 5 § 1.

 

Consequently, the applicant’s confinement to the private clinic amounted to a breach of her right to liberty as guaranteed by Article 5 § 1. No separate issues arose under Article 5 §§ 4 and 5.

 

Article 8 with respect to the applicant’s placement in a private clinic from 1977 to 1979

The Court found that the applicant’s medical treatment, which had been carried out against her will, interfered with her right to respect for private life. The Court, referring to its findings with respect to Article 5 § 1, found that Germany was responsible for that interference.

 

As the applicant’s confinement to the clinic for medical treatment had not been authorised by a court order, the interference with her right to respect for private life had not been lawful within the meaning of Article 8 § 2. Consequently, there had been a violation of Article 8.


Articles 5 and 8 with respect to the applicant’s placement in a private clinic in 1981

The Court found that the factual background of the applicant’s second stay in the private clinic, unlike the one of her first stay, did not support a conclusion that she had been confined to the clinic against her will. She had therefore not been deprived of her liberty within the meaning of Article 5, and there had therefore been no violation of that Article.

 

The Court further found that it has not been proved that the applicant had not validly consented to her medical treatment in the clinic in 1981, and that the Court of Appeal had concluded, on the basis of the material before it, that she had not been subjected to inappropriate medical treatment. Consequently, there had not been an interference with, and no violation of, the applicant’s right to respect for her private life within the meaning of Article 8.

 

Article 8 with respect to the applicant’s medical treatment in a university clinic

The Court noted that, even assuming that the applicant could only be considered to have agreed to being treated with due diligence and according to the medical standards at the relevant time, the national courts had reasonably found, with the help of medical experts, that the applicant had neither intentionally nor negligently been subjected to inappropriate medical treatment. Consequently, there had been no interference with the applicant’s right to respect for her private life within the meaning of Article 8.

 

Article 6 § 1

The Court found that none of the compensation proceedings the applicant had brought in the domestic courts could be considered unfair. In particular, in the proceedings before the Bremen courts, having regard to all the material before it, the choice of the expert and the assessment of his report did not disclose any unfairness. As to the proceedings in the Mainz and Koblenz courts, the Court concluded that the facts of the applicant’s case did not disclose non-compliance with the concept of equality of arms, given the courts’ assessment of an expert report and their refusal to apply a less strict rule on the burden of proof. Consequently, there had been no violation of Article 6.

 

***

 

The Court’s judgments are accessible on its Internet site (http://www.echr.coe.int).

 

Registry of the European Court of Human Rights
F – 67075
Strasbourg Cedex
Press contacts:   Roderick Liddell (telephone: +00 33 (0)3 88 41 24 92)
                            Emma Hellyer (telephone: +00 33 (0)3 90 21 42 15)
                            Stéphanie Klein (telephone: +00 33 (0)3 88 41 21 54)
Fax: +00 33 (0)3 88 41 27 91

 

The European Court of Human Rights was set up in Strasbourg by the Council of Europe Member States in 1959 to deal with alleged violations of the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights. Since 1 November 1998 it has sat as a full-time Court composed of an equal number of judges to that of the States party to the Convention. The Court examines the admissibility and merits of applications submitted to it. It sits in Chambers of 7 judges or, in exceptional cases, as a Grand Chamber of 17 judges. The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe supervises the execution of the Court’s judgments.

 



[1] Under Article 43 of the European Convention on Human Rights, within three months from the date of a Chamber judgment, any party to the case may, in exceptional cases, request that the case be referred to the 17‑member Grand Chamber of the Court. In that event, a panel of five judges considers whether the case raises a serious question affecting the interpretation or application of the Convention or its protocols, or a serious issue of general importance, in which case the Grand Chamber will deliver a final judgment. If no such question or issue arises, the panel will reject the request, at which point the judgment becomes final. Otherwise Chamber judgments become final on the expiry of the three-month period or earlier if the parties declare that they do not intend to make a request to refer.

[2] Judge elected in respect of Liechtenstein.

[3] This summary by the Registry does not bind the Court.