Biriuk v. Lithuania

Application No. 23373/03
Download Judgment: English Lithuanian
Country: Lithuania
Region: Europe
Year: 2009
Court: The European Court of Human Rights
Tags: AIDS, Confidentiality, Disclosure, HIV, HIV positive, HIV status, People living with HIV/AIDS, PLHIV, Testing

The largest Lithuanian daily in an article titled “Pasvalys villages paralysed by the fear of death: residents of the remote Lithuanian area shackled by the AIDS threat” stated about Ms. Biriuk that she was notoriously promiscuous and that she had HIV. They also stated that she came to be infected with HIV by drug users. She first ensued proceedings in the District Court alleging breach of privacy. The Court ruled in his favour and stated that the newspaper had failed to established truthfulness of the publication of his relationships and also that his status of health, address, full name had been disclosed without his consent. Further it did not have any compelling legitimate object in publishing these details. However, the Court stated that it did not seem like the disclosure had been made intentionally. The award granted therefore was 2896 Euros.

The Appellate Court agreed with the lower court’s reasoning and the Supreme Court further affirmed the reasoning of the lower court.

The Court held that there had been a violation of Article 8 of the Convention and increased the amount of the award to 6500 Euros. The Court further stated that her sexual life and state of health was her private affair and the newspaper could not show any legitimate objective behind such publication. The Court further noted that the fact that the family lived in a small village and not a city increased the impact of the publication manifold, which caused him humiliation and exclusion from the social circle.

“The Court notes at the outset that publication of the article about the applicant’s state of health, doctors having confirmed that she was HIV-positive, as well as references to her sexual life (paragraph 6 above) were of a purely private nature and therefore fell within the protection of Article 8 (see, for example, the aforementioned Dudgeon v. the United Kingdom judgment, § 41). The Court takes particular note of the fact that the applicant lived not in a city but in a village, which increased the impact of the publication on the possibility that her illness would be known by her neighbours and her immediate family, thereby causing public humiliation and exclusion from village social life. Moreover, the applicant was entitled to respect for her privacy regarding her sexual life, whatever her neighbours’ concerns. In this respect the Court sees no reason to depart from the conclusion of the national courts, which acknowledged that there had been interference with the applicant’s right to privacy.” (Para 41)

“As for the reasoning of the Supreme Court in the present case, the Court does not accept that the purported concerns of the local population for their safety were legitimate, either socially or scientifically, thereby justifying a publication about the applicant’s state of health and her life style. In the Court’s view the opposite holds true: respecting the confidentiality of health data is crucial not only for the protection of a patient’s privacy but also for the maintenance of that person’s confidence in the medical profession and in the health services in general. Without such protection, those in need of medical assistance may be deterred from seeking appropriate treatment, thereby endangering their own health and, in the case of transmissible diseases, that of the community (see Z v. Finland, cited above, § 95). In this respect the Court attaches particular significance to the fact that, according to the newspaper, the information about the applicant’s illness had been confirmed by the medical staff of Pasvalys hospital (see paragraph 6 above). However, it is of special importance that domestic law provides appropriate safeguards to discourage any such disclosures and the further publication of personal data.” (Para 43)