Poland: European Court Critical of Institutional Care System

Joint press release by the Polish Helsinki Foundation and the Mental Disability Advocacy Center 

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) yesterday delivered its judgment in the case of Kedzior v. Poland, in which the applicant was represented by the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights in Warsaw. The Mental Disability Advocacy Center submitted an independent third party intervention in the case.

This is the first Polish case which deals with the institutionalisation of a person with psycho-social (mental health) disability. Mr Stanisław Kędzior is a Polish man who in 2000 was placed under the guardianship of his brother. Two years later the brother/guardian arranged for Mr Kedzior to be transferred from his home to a social care institution against his will, where he has remained for ten years with no way to challenge his detention in court.

“The European Court has again sent a clear message to governments: stop detaining people in segregated institutions”, said Lycette Nelson, MDAC’s Litigation Director. “Poland ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in September 2012. The government needs to provide alternatives to institutions to ensure that each person with disabilities is able to enjoy their right to live in the community with choices equal to others.”

Kedzior v. Poland is the second case, following MDAC’s case of Stanev v. Bulgaria challenging segregation from the community, the other being DD v. Lithuania. As in the Stanev case, the Court found that Mr Kedzior “was not free to leave the institution without the management’s permission. Nor could the applicant himself request leave of absence from the home, as such requests had to be made by the applicant’s official guardian.” In finding a violation of the right to liberty, the Court found that Mr Kedzior “was under constant supervision and was not free to leave the home without permission whenever he wished.” Reaffirming its views established the 2010 judgment of Shtukaturov v. Russia (another MDAC case) the Court said that Mr Kedzior’s detention was not justified, and that he should have been given an opportunity to challenge his detention.

“This is the first judgment against Poland of its kind,” said Adam Bodnar, lawyer at the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights: “It will have important consequences, and we now call on the Polish government to introduce court reviews for everyone in social care institutions.”

The ECtHR noted the European trend towards granting individuals deprived of legal capacity direct access to the courts to challenge their guardianship status. Noting the 2009 legislative changes which allow people under plenary guardianship to request restoration of their legal capacity, the applicant himself was curtailed in challenging his guardianship, so the Court found a violation of his right to access to court as guaranteed by Article 6(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Court awarded the applicant 10,000 EUR damages due to the violations found.

Although the judgment is robust on certain of the arguments made in the case, MDAC and the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights are disappointed that the Court refused to comment on how confinement in an institution affects a person’s right to respect for private and family life. The Court, relying on its faulty approach taken in the Stanev case, declined to examine the applicant’s claims under this heading. This is a startling error, because being in an institution is more than the process of how a person gets in and how a person gets out. MDAC will continue to bring this to the Court’s attention in future cases and is confident that the Court will more thoroughly review the applicants’ clams in these cases.

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