Social Care Institution Case Sent to the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights

12 August 2010, Budapest (Hungary) and Sofia (Bulgaria). In a decision dated 29 June 2010, the European Court of Human Rights declared the application of Rusi Stanev v. Bulgaria (application no. 36760/06) admissible. The Fifth Section of the Court, in a procedure reserved for cases that raise issues of great importance, relinquished the case to the Grand Chamber for judgment on the merits. Mr. Stanev, who is represented by the Mental Disability Advocacy Center and the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, is a man with a psycho-social disability who was partially deprived of his legal capacity and placed into the Pastra Social Care Institution without his consent in 2002.

He has been deprived of his liberty since. No evaluation was ever undertaken to determine that Mr. Stanev was not capable of living on his own and no court has ever reviewed his need to stay there. The director of the institution is the guardian for Mr. Stanev and therefore controls his finances and identity papers as well as deciding his place of residence. In its admissibility decision, the Court reviewed the laws of 20 Council of Europe member States and found that the vast majority entitle anyone who has been deprived of legal capacity direct access to a court to seek discontinuation of their guardianship. The Court also reviewed the laws of 18 European States and showed that Bulgaria is out of step with the majority of European States by not providing any judicial review of placement of people in specialized institutions who have been deprived of their legal capacity. Rather than living as a member of the community as is his wish, Mr. Stanev is forced to remain in an institution that the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment recommended for closure in 2004 due to its horrible conditions, including lack of heat and basic hygiene. Mr. Stanev has no legal means to ask for his liberty under Bulgarian law because he has no legal standing before any Bulgarian court. In his case before the European Court of Human Rights, Mr. Stanev alleges violations of his rights under the European Convention on Human Rights, including his right not to be subject to inhuman and degrading treatment under Article 3, his right to liberty under Article 5, to a fair hearing under Article 6, to respect for home and private life under Article 8, and to an effective remedy under Article 13. MDAC hopes that the Court’s recognition of the importance of the factual and legal issues of Mr. Stanev’s case will highlight the problems of deprivation of legal capacity and involuntary, unnecessary institutional placement as extreme and unacceptable deprivations of liberty. For more information, contact Oliver Lewis, Executive Director at MDAC's work in Bulgaria is made possible by a grant from the Trust for Civil Society in Central and Eastern Europe, the Open Society Institute - Budapest, and MDAC-UK.

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