European Court of Human Rights upholds the right to vote of persons with disabilities

Budapest (Hungary) and Strasbourg (France), 20 May 2010. Persons with disabilities placed under guardianship are one of the most vulnerable groups of Hungarian society. One reason for their exclusion is that they are automatically deprived of their basic right to participate in political decision-making. Today, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that this blanket disenfranchisement is contrary to the European Convention of Human Rights.

According to the Hungarian Constitution persons under plenary or partial guardianship are deprived of their right to vote. The provision excludes an estimated 80,000 adults from political participation, representation and decision-making. The Mental Disability Advocacy Center has for a long time emphasized that such a practice not only reinforces the social isolation of persons with disabilities. A legal prohibition is also contrary to Hungary's international obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), and the Council of Europe Recommendation No. R(99)4 on 'incapable adults'.

Today's judgment in the case K.A. v. Hungary by the European Court of Human Rights has the potential to trigger radical changes in the protection of political rights of persons with disabilities. MDAC and Mr K.A.'s legal representative Jan Fiala introduced an application with the Court in 2006 on behalf of the client. Under partial guardianship since 2005, Mr K.A was prevented to exercise his right to vote in the 2006 general elections. The judicial decision placing him under guardianship did not in any way assess his actual capacity to make decisions about political issues, and as such did not serve a legitimate aim. Deprivation of his right to vote was an automatic consequence of the fact that he was placed under guardianship by the virtue of the Constitution.

In its judgment the European Court of Human Rights stated that Article 3 of Protocol No. 1 to the ECHR does not allow for an absolute bar on voting rights applied to anyone placed under partial guardianship irrespective of a person's actual abilities. Even if the Protocol permits restrictions to ensure that only citizens capable of assessing the consequences of their decisions and making conscious and judicious decisions should participate in public affairs, the Court found that a blanket restriction is not in compliance with the Convention.

MDAC welcomes the Court's willingness to recognize the far-reaching discriminatory consequences such a restriction has on a particularly vulnerable group which faces immense societal prejudices. MDAC urges the Hungarian authorities to give effect to the Court's ruling and end the curtailment of voting rights of persons with disabilities in accordance of international law, including the CRPD, which is legally binding on Hungary.

The Court's judgment means that the legal regulation on the rights of persons with disabilities needs to be reconsidered, including amending the Hungarian Constitution. The ruling should provide further impetus to the somewhat halted reform process currently taking place with regard to the rights and legal status of persons with disabilities in the framework of the adoption of a new Civil Code. For the Court's press release, click here.

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