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European Court of Human Rights: Annulment of adoption of Ageyev children violates Convention

18 April 2013

Source: (info
On 18 April 2013 the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) delivered its ruling in the case of Ageyevy v. Russia, № 7075/10. The claimants in this case are husband and wife Anton and Larisa Ageyev, who live in the village of Korobovo in the Leninsky district, Moscow Region. Their interests were represented by lawyers from the Memorial Human Rights Centre and the European Human Rights Advocacy Centre (EHRAC). The lawyers Elena Kashutina, Pavel Shevchuk and Nadezhda Ermolayeva represented the Ageyev couple at the national level at various stages. 

The ECtHR declared the annulment of the adoption of two children by the Avgeyevs unjustified and asked the Russian authorities to review the decision. In addition, the Russian authorities should pay the claimants compensation for moral damage in the amount of 55,000 euros and compensation to cover the costs of the case at the ECtHR of 12,000 euros.

"In establishing violations of the Convention in the Ageyev case, the European Court of Human Rights was astounded in what little depth the Russian courts studied the circumstances of the case. Unfortunately, this is not uncommon in our courts, even when decisions are being taken that are so momentous for parents and their children. Overall, the Ageyev case is a striking example of how the Russian authorities show a complete lack of respect for people's private and family life, sometimes blatantly holding them in disdain, and taking neither the parents' rights nor the children's interests into account. In the case of the Ageyevs, the European Court of Human Rights unanimously found the Russian authorities incapable of safeguarding the right to private and family life," says Nadezhda Ermolaeva.

In April 2008 the Ageyev couple adopted two children, whose biological parents had been deprived of their parental rights in 2006 and 2007 for failing to fulfil their parental responsibilities. On 20 March 2009 the Ageyevs' son was injured in an accident and his father took him to hospital. However, on 26 March the parents were allowed to take the child home, since there was no further need to keep him in hospital.

That same day, a criminal case was opened against Larisa Ageyeva on suspicion of causing physical harm to the child. Anton was later charged too. On 29 March the children were taken from the family and placed in a hospital "for social reasons." The Vindovsky City Court of Moscow Region subsequently ruled these actions lawful.

The case of the Ageyev family attracted attention among the public and the press. Several journalists spread false information about the parents ill-treating the child. Information about Anton and Larisa's private life, recordings from hidden cameras that had been set up in their home and photographs of the child taken at the hospital without the parents' knowledge ended up in the the press illegally. In June 2009 the Ageyevs asked for a criminal case to be brought against the people involved in illegally spreading information about their private life and false information about them. A criminal case was brought in November 2009 for disclosing secrets of the adoption, and in December the claimants were recognised as victims. However, the investigators proved incapable of bringing anyone to justice. 

On 17 June 2009 the Preobrazhensky District Court in Moscow ruled to annul the adoption for both children. The court based its decision on the alleged failure to properly look after their health. The fact that the claimants did not drive the children to the district health clinic, preferring instead specialist medical centres and research institutes, the court considered to show a "tendency for self-treatment." On 13 August 2009 Moscow City Court upheld this decision.

On 21 January 2010 the claimants appealed to the European Court of Human Rights.

Since June 2010 the Ageyev couple have been allowed to visit the children, who are now in a children's home. They play an active role in their lives. Staff at the orphanage have noticed a positive change in the children, which is solely down to the fact that Anton and Larisa are involved in their upbringing.

Meanwhile, developments continued in the criminal case against the Ageyevs. On 15 November 2010 the Vidnovsky Court found Larisa Ageyeva guilty of intentionally inflicting harm to the health of one of the children (Part 1 of Article 115 of the Criminal Code) and failing to fulfil her obligations for their upbringing (Article 156 of the Criminal Code). She was cleared of all other charges. The sentence was 1 year and 8 months correctional labour with 15% of her wages to be deducted to go to the state. Anton Ageyev was cleared of all charges, since his actions did not constitute a crime. Larisa, her lawyer and the children's legal guardian appealed against the verdict and called for her to be acquitted. In turn, the Public Prosecutor's Office brought a cassation appeal against the acquittal of Anton, and also demanded a tougher sentence for Larisa.

On 17 February 2011 the Judicial Division for Criminal Cases of the Moscow Region Court rejected the cassation appeals and the petitions of the process participants, and the verdict was upheld. With regard to the conviction of Larisa, an appeal was also made to the European Court of Human Rights on the basis that her right to a fair trial (Article 6 of the Convention) had been violated.

In March 2011 Anton, who had been found not guilty, asked for the decision to annul the adoption to be reviewed in light of the new circumstances. He was refused. Anton's appeal to the Preobrazhensky Court of Moscow to have his paternal rights restored was also turned down. In this way, the search for legal avenues at the national level capable of reuniting the Ageyev family proved unsuccessful.

In considering the appeal by the Ageyevs, the ECtHR established that there had been a series of violations of Article 8 (the right to respect for private and family life) of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. These included actions by the Russian authorities which led to the spreading of information in the media about the private life of the claimants, the disclosure of the secrets of the adoption and the inability to carry out an effective investigation of this, and the unhindered access of journalists to the claimant's son while he was in hospital. Another violation of Article 8 was ruled to be the fact that the claimants did not have the right to see their children until June 2010.

The ECtHR ruled the annulment of the adoption unjustified and made special mention of the fact that the national procedures in this regard should be looked at again and the decision reviewed in accordance with the provisions of the Civil Procedure Code. The decision of the chamber, made up of seven judges, was unanimous.

Source: Memorial Human Rights Centre