Russian Constitutional Court criticises “abusive” guardianship law

St. Petersburg (Russia) and Budapest (Hungary). In a case initiated by MDAC, the Russian Constitutional Court yesterday quashed as unconstitutional the lack of alternatives to plenary guardianship. An estimated 300,000 people are currently under guardianship, all stripped of their personhood and of their legal rights. The Court ordered the parliament to enact a new law which better respects people’s decision-making capacity.

Since 1982, Irina Delova has lived in “Social Care Institution No. 3” in St. Petersburg. With almost 1,100 it is one of the largest institutions in Russia. Until 2010 she had managed her own money, but the institution wanted to control it. They applied to a district court which deprived Ms Delova of her legal capacity. The institution became her guardian and she was not allowed to access her own money. At the district court hearing, psychiatrists testified that Ms Delova was able to manage her money for every-day purposes, but she needed some support for more complex transactions.

“The Constitutional Court has taken an important step in recognising the obvious: that the law should provide alternatives to Irina Delova, as it should to everyone else: stripping personhood and dignity should never be lawful,” said Oliver Lewis, MDAC Executive Director. “We call on the Federal Government and members of the Duma to abolish plenary guardianship altogether, and introduce supported decision-making, in accordance with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.”

Full deprivation of legal capacity is the only measure available in Russian law to enable people with disabilities to make decisions. MDAC has been campaigning for reform of the law since launching a report on guardianship and human rights in Russia in 2007. In 2010 the European Court of Human Rights started to chip away at the system in the case of Shtukaturov v. Russia. In a separate case brought on Mr. Shtukaturov’s behalf, the Constitutional Court struck down numerous procedural aspects of Russian guardianship law which were implemented through legislative amendments in 2011. However, until now, the substantive guardianship law had not been judicially criticised.

Ms Delova was represented by Dmitri Bartenev, an attorney practicing in St. Petersburg who is MDAC’s contracted Russian attorney. The case was supported by MDAC as well as the St. Petersburg NGO “Perspektivy” and the Independent Psychiatric Association of Russia.

Commenting on the decision, Dmitri Bartenev said, “This is a historic moment for Russia in combatting the social exclusion of hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities. Depriving someone of their legal capacity is routinely used by family members and local government to then lock people up in an institution for the rest of their lives.”

MDAC will make the full text of the decision in Russian available on its website as soon as it is available and will post an English translation shortly. MDAC’s litigation in Russia has been supported financially by the Open Society Foundations. MDAC is the only international NGO that challenges these violations, which would otherwise remain hidden. We need your help to continue taking cases such as Ms Delova’s to court, creating a legal deterrent to prevent future abuses of this kind. The change MDAC creates is long-lasting and will ultimately improve the lives of many future generations of people. Your support is needed because, in all cases, the clients who we help have no funds, and legal aid is not available to pay lawyers. To donate, please click here

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