Eggertsdóttir, Sara Lind v. Iceland

App. No. 31930/04, Eur. Ct. H.R. 553 (2007).
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The applicant, an Icelandic national was born physically and mentally handicapped at the National and University Hospital (NUH). Linking the cause to possible mistakes on the part of the hospital staff, the applicant’s parents brought judicial proceedings on her behalf against the State of Iceland. The District Court found that the State was liable and awarded the applicant compensation. The State appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, which sought the opinion of the State Medico-Legal Board (SMLB). The Supreme Court subsequently overturned the District Court’s finding. The applicant claimed that in the Supreme Court proceedings, she had not been afforded a fair hearing before an impartial tribunal as provided in Article 6 § 1 of the Convention. More specifically, the applicant objected to the Supreme Court’s decision to seek the opinion of the SMLB, finding it “unconscionable” for a high court to seek new evidence without the consent, or even comment, of the parties involved. In addition, the applicant pointed out that four of the SMLB members had been employees of the NUH.

The State of Iceland breached Article 6 § 1 of the Convention insofar as the composition and role of the SMLB compromised the Supreme Court's objective impartiality.

51. It is also to be noted that the issue to be determined in the relevant proceedings before the Supreme Court was whether the State was liable to pay compensation on account of medical negligence in connection with the applicant's birth at the same hospital as where the four members were employed, the NUH. Their task was not simply to give an expert opinion on any given subject that might or might not differ from an opinion previously stated by their colleagues and the management at the NUH on the same subject. In preparing the SMLB's expert opinion for the Supreme Court, the four members in question were called to do something more intricate, namely to analyse and assess the performance of their colleagues at the NUH with the aim to assist the Supreme Court in determining the question of their employer's liability. Therefore, the Court is unable to share the Government' view that this was merely a situation of experts being employed by the same administrative authority as was involved in the case (see Bönisch, cited above, § 32; cf. Brandstetter, cited above, p. 21, §§ 44-45; Zumtobel v. Austria, Commission's report of 30 June 1992, § 86, ECHR Series A no. 268-A; Beleggings- en Beheersmaatschappij Indiana B.V. v. the Netherlands (dec.) no. 21491/93, 29 November 1995; and Wolfgang Blum and Klaus Ignaz Jacobi v. Austria (dec.) no. 26527/95 of 18 November 1995).