Avilkina and Others v. Russia

ECHR 171 (2013)
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The applicant organization is a religious organization. Another organization wrote to the Russian president accusing the applicant organization of extremism and that an inquiry must be ensued into their activities. The letter was forwarded to the Prosecutor’s office and no violation was found. However, the applicant organization was not given access to the filed concerning the prosecution. The prosecution authorities had instructed all St. Petersburg hospitals to report refusal of blood transfusions by the members of the applicant organization. After such reporting of refusal, the prosecutor’s office asked for the medical records of the said individuals.

The Court held that there had been a violation of Article 8 of the Convention. The Court stated that it had been time and again held that the personal information related to a patient comes within the ambit of his or her personal life under Article 8 of the Convention. Considering the fact that two of the hospitals were public hospitals, the State was responsible for the purposes of the Convention. The Court states that there were no compelling interests, which would allow the violation. The applicants were not suspects nor were they accused of any crime and there was no reason for interference in their private lives.

“The Court observes that it has previously held that personal information relating to a patient belongs to his or her private life (see, I., cited above, § 35). It also takes into account the position of the Russian national courts that reviewed the applicants’ case and concluded that the information concerning the methods of their medical treatment should have been treated as confidential (see paragraph 20 above).” (Para 30)

“Turning to the circumstances of the present case, the Court observes that the applicants were not suspects or accused in any criminal investigation. The prosecutor merely conducted an inquiry into the activities of the applicants’ religious organisation in response to complaints received by his office. The medical facilities where the applicants underwent treatment did not report any instances of alleged criminal behaviour to the prosecutor’s office. In particular, it was open to the medical professionals providing treatment to the second applicant, who was two years old at the time, to apply or to ask the prosecutor to apply for judicial authorisation for a blood transfusion if they believed her to be in a life-threatening situation. Likewise, there is nothing in the materials before the Court to suggest that the doctors who reported the fourth applicant’s case to the District Prosecutor opined that her refusal of a blood transfusion was not an expression of her true will but rather the product of pressure exerted on her by other adherents of her religious beliefs (see, mutatis mutandis, Jehovah’sWitnesses of Moscow, cited above, §§ 137-38). In such circumstances, the Court does not discern any pressing social need for requesting the disclosure of the confidential medical information concerning the applicants. It therefore considers that the means employed by the prosecutor in conducting the inquiry need not have been so oppressive for the applicants.” (Para 47)