Woman with intellectual disability fights for her autonomy at European Court

MDAC and lawyer Dmitri Bartenev have submitted legal arguments to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) on behalf of Russian citizen Irina Delova, after she was placed under guardianship and denied the right to make decisions in her life. The case highlights a form of discrimination faced by hundreds of thousands of people with disabilites in the country, in spite of recent law reform.

Irina Delova (right) on a bus with friends. © Perspektiva.

In 2007, the social care institution where Ms. Delova had resided for many years asked a court in St. Petersburg to take away her decision-making rights on account of her intellectual disability. The decision was particularly concerning given that Ms. Delova had lived without such restrictions for over 40 years after building up a network of supporters around her. Ignoring this, the St. Petersburg court placed Ms. Delova under a guardianship order, granting the social care institution extensive powers over her life, and denying her the right to make everyday decisions, including how she spends small amounts money and what leisure activities she takes part in.

Appeals in the Russian courts proved unsuccessful after they took the view, partly relying on expert reports, that she was unable to understand the meaning of her actions. Ms. Delova then turned to MDAC to take her case to the ECtHR. Representing Ms. Delova in the Strasbourg proceedings, MDAC argues that the Russian Federation has violated her right to privacy under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) by placing her under plenary (full) guardianship. The submission goes on to argue that such a measure represents a serious interference with her private life which cannot be justified under international human rights law. The submission also points out that the placement of Ms. Delova under guardianship is discriminatory on the basis of her disability, and breaches key provisions of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which Russia ratified in 2012.

MDAC has been involved in challenging Russia’s outdated guardianship laws for over a decade. In 2008, MDAC secured a crucial ECtHR judgment against the country on behalf of Pavel Shtukaturov, where the Court found that Russia’s system of guardianship failed to meet basic fair trial standards, and caused severe restrictions on the right to privacy and family life. Follow-up litigation by MDAC in Russia resulted in the Constitutional Court ordering the government to enact new legislation ending the system of plenary guardianship. The new legislation, which came into force last year, is a positive sign of progress, although an estimated 300,000 people with disabilities remain under plenary guardianship orders in the country, including Ms. Delova.

Following the submission in her case, Irina Delova said:

"I hope that the ECtHR hands down a judgment that will force the authorities to give me back the right to spend my money in the way I want, and to live a decent, autonomous life."

MDAC Litigation Director Ann Campbell, said:

“Irina Delova is a woman who has been able to function independently for many years with help from family and her support networks. Depriving her of the ability to decide for herself on everyday matters is a breach of her human rights. Her case is indicative of the injustice that so many people with mental disabilities continue to face in Russia, and shows how far the country still has to go in guaranteeing their rights.”


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