L.H. v. Latvia

Application No. 52019/07
Download Judgment: English

The applicant gave birth by Caesarean section in the Cesis District Central Hospital (Cesis Hospital) in 1997. The surgeon conducting the Caesarean section performed a tubal ligation (surgical contraception) without the applicant’s consent. The applicant commenced civil proceedings against the hospital to recover damages for the unauthorized procedure. Ultimately, in December 2006, the applicant’s claim was upheld and she was awarded compensation.

During the course of the litigation proceedings, Cesis Hospital requested the Inspectorate of Quality Control for Medical Care and Fitness for Work (MADEKKI) to assess the disputed treatment received by the applicant in 1997. The MADEKKI began an administrative inquiry, examining the gynecological treatment the applicant received from 1996-2003. The MADEKKI obtained detailed information on the applicant’s health over this period. In May 2004, the MADEKKI released a report on the medical treatment received by the applicant in 1997 during her childbirth. The report contained sensitive, private medical information. It concluded that Cesis Hospital had not violated any laws with regards to the applicant, and a copy of the report was delivered to the hospital.

The applicant lodged a claim in administrative court that the inquiry was unlawful and was done to help Cesis Hospital during the litigation. The court rejected the claim holding that the report did not qualify as an administrative act. This was upheld by the Senate of the Supreme Court, which agreed that there was an interference with the applicant’s private life but that the interference fell within the margin of appreciation of balancing confidentiality of medical data with ensuring quality of care.

The Court held that there was an unlawful interference with the applicant’s right to respect for private life in violation of Article 8 of the Convention.

The Court noted that any interference must be done “in accordance with the law.” This required that the domestic law must be sufficiently precise and “afford adequate legal protection against arbitrariness.” The Court rejected the government’s claim that the purpose of collecting the applicant’s personal data was to protect public health. The MADEKKI began to collect the applicant’s data in 2004, seven years after the incident took place, after any prosecution of the medical professional could occur and suggesting that it was unlikely the applicant’s data had been necessary for the provision of medical treatment or the administration of health care services. Additionally, the applicant was never informed about the collection of her personal information and the report contained no information on how the hospital could improve its services, lending support to the idea it was largely meant to assist Cesis Hospital with the ongoing litigation. The Court also noted that the relevant laws described the competence of MADEKKI in “a very general fashion.” This meant that Senate did not and could not examine the proportionality of the interference against the public interest, deferring entirely to the legislator. The Court further noted that the MADEKKI collected data concerning the applicant indiscriminately, without regard for its importance or relevance to the matter at issue. Considering everything above, the Court found the law lacked sufficient precision and legal protection against arbitrariness.

“The Court notes that in the present case the MADEKKI started to collect the applicant’s medical data in 2004, seven years after her sterilisation and at a time when the applicant was involved in civil litigation with the Cesis hospital. In the Court’s view this lengthy delay raises a number of questions, such as the one highlighted by the applicant, namely, whether data collection in 2004 can be deemed to have been “necessary for the purposes of medical treatment [or] the provision or administration of heath care services” within the meaning of section 11(5) of the Data Protection Law, if the actual health care services had been provided seven years earlier, in 1997.” (para. 50)

“The hospital itself was never given any recommendations on how to improve the services provided by it. The only information that was received by the hospital pertained specifically to the actions of the doctor responsible for the applicant’s treatment and that information was provided to the hospital at a time when there was an ongoing litigation between the applicant and the hospital.” (para. 51)

“The Court reiterates that the protection of personal data, not least medical data is of fundamental importance to a person’s enjoyment of the right to respect for his or her private life as guaranteed by Article 8 of the Convention. Respecting the confidentiality of health data is a vital principle in the legal systems of all the Contracting Parties to the Convention.” (para. 56)

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