GHEORGHE v. ROMANIA

CASE OF GHEORGHE v. ROMANIA
Download Judgment: English
Country: Romania
Region:
Year: 2007
Court: The European Court of Human Rights
Health Topics: Chronic and noncommunicable diseases, Disabilities, Health systems and financing
Human Rights: Right to due process/fair trial, Right to social security

The applicant was a Romanian national who had hemophilia and second degree disability. He had been examined  by the Medical Expert Reports and Occupational Rehabilitation Board (the Board) under the Ministry of Employment and Social Welfare (the Ministry) every year and issued with a temporary certificate that enabled him to receive certain entitlements, indicating his disability. Entitlements included transport and telephone costs, income tax exemption and free medical care. The certificate used to hold a statement “valid for Law no. 35/1993” which implicitly entitled a disabled person to benefits under Law no. 53/1992. In December 1998, the County Disabled Persons’ Bureau (the Bureau) notified the applicant that he would only be entitled to benefits under Law no. 35/1993 and not under Law no. 53/1992 as his certificate mentioned only the former.

In February 1999, the Ministry explained to the applicant that he could have enjoyed all the benefits with his certificate in the absence of a legal stipulation to the contrary. In October 1999, the Board confirmed the applicant’s disability with the same statement “valid for Law no. 35/1993”. In April 2000, the applicant complained to the State Secretariat for Disabled Persons stating that his health status deteriorated due to lack of medical care he could have received under Law no. 53/1992. The State Secretariat responded that the applicant could enjoy the benefits under both laws due to his second degree disability.

The applicant instituted an action before Ploieşti court of appeal against the State Secretariat and the Board alleging that his disability be determined as enabling him to benefit from Law no. 53/1992 and to be reimbursed with pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages for the damage he had suffered due to a deterioration of his health during the suspension of the benefits, between October 1998 and September 2000.The court dismissed the applicants request for a declaration of status as he already had the disability status and stated that it had no jurisdiction to decide on the damages. On a second appeal, the supreme court held that the court of appeal had jurisdiction to decide on the damages and the case began to be tried by the court of appeal which had ordered an expert opinion on the applicant’s health status that had concluded that “the discontinuation of treatment [had] resulted in a sudden worsening of the disease, promoting the onset of very serious complications, namely internal and external bleeding, intracranial bleeding with haematomas, paralysis, phlebitis and asphyxia”. [Para. 25]

The court of appeal dismissed the applicant’s claim as unfounded on the ground that he hadn’t provided a proof that he belonged to a group of disability that could enable him to receive better entitlements. The applicant appealed to the supreme court which upheld the lower court’s decision on the ground that he had failed to challenge the certificates regarding his disability before the Higher Medical Expert Reports Board as required under the law. Within this period of litigation, the applicant had been hospitalized twice for in patient treatments.

The applicant lodged his claim before the European Court of Human Rights (the ECHR) alleging a violation of his right to fair hearing under Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the Convention) as the proceedings before the supreme court were unfair and lengthy. He stated that national courts had misinterpreted his claims for damage and dismissed them. He argued that he hadn’t requested to be classified under the group that enjoyed more benefits and had requested to be reimbursed for the medical cost he had incurred during the suspension of his benefits of disability. The government argued that domestic proceedings were in compliance with the requirements of fair hearing and the courts had responded to the applicant as to why his request for damage couldn’t be granted.

The ECHR noted that the applicant had sought damage for the entitlements he hadn't been awarded under the disability category he was in and the court erred when it considered the applicant's requests as demanding better entitlements. The supreme court also had based  its decision on the lower courts findings; both courts dismissed the applicant's claim on the ground that he hadn't challenged his category of classification. The supreme court failed to address (explicitly respond to) the applicant's claim although he had indicated, on appeal, the fact that the lower court had mistakenly interpreted his claim. The ECHR held that the applicant hadn't been provided with a fair hearing and thus found a violation of Article 6(1) of the Convention.

"Nevertheless, the purpose of the Convention being to guarantee not rights that are theoretical or illusory but rights that are practical and effective, the right to a fair hearing can only be seen to be effective if the requests of the parties are actually “heard”, that is, duly considered by the court. In that regard the Court reiterates that the extent to which a court's duty to give reasons applies may vary according to the nature of the decision. That is why the question whether a court has failed to fulfill the obligation to state reasons, deriving from Article 6 of the Convention, can only be determined in the light of the circumstances of the case. Without requiring a detailed answer to every argument put forward by a complainant, this obligation nevertheless presupposes that the injured party can expect a specific and express reply to those submissions which are decisive for the outcome of the proceedings in question." [Para. 43]

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