Agbonlahor, et al. v. Minister for Justice

[2007] I.E.H.C. 166 (April 18, 2007)(Ir.).
Download Judgment: English
Country: Ireland
Region: Europe
Year: 2007
Court: High Court
Health Topics: Child and adolescent health, Mental health, Violence
Human Rights: Right to privacy
Tags: Asylum, Child development, Children, Mental disability, Mental disorder, Minor, Refugees

A Nigerian woman, applied on behalf of herself and her two children for refugee status in Ireland. The woman had arrived in Italy with her husband in 1996 and her two children were born there. The applicant’s husband was a writer and she claimed that because of her husband’s piece on a Nigerian “drug baron” living in Italy, they began to receive threats, which led to an attack by several Nigerians. After reports to the police, the threats continued so she decided to leave the country for her safety and that of her children. She applied for asylum alleging threats from the Nigerian ex-patriot community in Italy as well as claims of the threat of female mutilation to her daughter if they returned to Nigeria.

The Refugee Applications Commissioner denied the application, which was affirmed on appeal before the Refugee Appeals Tribunal. The applicants were then notified by the Respondent (“the Minister”) of the deportation orders for all three. The applicant submitted an appeal to the Minister through the Refugee Legal Service, obtaining a deferral on their deportation on the grounds that the primary applicant’s son had been given an appointment for an assessment at a Regional Autistic Spectrum Disorder Clinic. The Minister put a hold on the deportation order pending a review of the case. The son was assessed at the Clinic and diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and an “intellectual disability” and “sensory integration issues.” Given her son’s condition, the applicant requested the Minister to amend or revoke the deportation orders, claiming that the affected child would not be able to receive special care needed in Nigeria and that he and his family would be “ostracized from society.”

Removing the child from Ireland would constitute a breach of his right for this private life guaranteed by Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. After hearing the new arguments, the Minister denied revocation of the deportation orders, arguing that the alleged fear of persecution in Italy was unfounded and the child’s health was not at risk were they to return to Nigeria.

The Court held that Article 8 (right to private and family life) was not violated. The Court found that their family life would no be affected since the deportation applied to all three applicants and they would not be separated and the rest of the family was not living in Ireland, but in Italy. Also, the Court found that the removal of petitioner's son from Ireland would not constitute an interference in his life and that the state had no obligation to continue to allow an alien to benefit from medical, social or other forms of assistance by the expelling state, with exceptions only for the exceptional cases. In their opinion, exceptional circumstances had not been established to evoke Article 8, as the boy's condition would not result in death but rather the absence of educational and medical facilities. In addition, the menace faced by the boy was not resultant from the state's actions.

The Court held that  the right to private life under Article 8 includes “moral and physical integrity,” underscoring that mental health constitutes "a crucial part of private life." The Court reiterated that mental stability is an "indispensable precondition to the effective enjoyment of the right to private life." Although the Court recognized that the purpose of Article 8 is mainly to protect the individual from arbitrary state interference (requiring negative action from the state), the Court emphasized that Article 8 may at times require positive state obligations, which are " inherent in effective respect for Article 8 rights." However, the Court found that in the case of the applicants, the issue was not the lack of treatment that could result in the child's death, but rather, Nigeria's lack of "educational medical facilities needed to ensure the full development of the Applicant." Nevertheless, the Court concluded that it was not the responsibility of the Irish government to provide the necessary care for the applicant's development. The Court also held that the Irish government did not violate article 8 because the alleged risk to the applicants was not a result of state action.

The Court concluded that the applicants fulfilled the requirements for refugee status, deciding not to revoke the deportation orders. The Court found the Minister's decision proportionate and that the applicant’s situation was not exceptional. The Court held that a persons' rights under the European Convention would only be violated upon removal to a country whose government would commit acts upon that individual.

"3.1. [...] Private life is a broad term not susceptible to exhaustive definition. …Mental health must also be regarded as a crucial part of private life associated with the aspect of moral integrity. …The preservation of mental stability is in that context an indispensable precondition to effective enjoyment of the right to respect for private life." Para. 3.1.

"3.2 Article 8 does not protect private or family life as such. In fact it guarantees a "respect for these rights" (...). The court has stressed on many occasions that the object of Article 8 is essentially that of protecting the individual against arbitrary interference by public authorities and that such is a primarily negative undertaking but that nevertheless it has on occasions indicated that there may in addition be positive obligations upon States that are inherent in effective respect for Article 8 rights. There have been occasional challenges to deportations on the ground of interference with Article 8 rights. Those challenges have almost always been based on interference with "family life" rather than "private life". In the Abdulaziz case the court held that whilst there might be positive obligations to respect the family that "a State had a wide margin of appreciation in determining the steps to be taken to ensure compliance with the Convention with due regard to the needs and resource of the community and of individuals"."