Matter v. Slovak Republic

Application No. 31534/96; [1999] ECHR 38
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The Applicant, Mr Wilibald Rudolf Matter, had been undergoing psychiatric treatment for twenty years for a continually worsening syndrome of dementia. As a result, the Čadca District Court restricted his legal capacity in 1976, and later in 1983 deprived him of all legal capacity on the ground that he suffered from an “explosive and vexatious form of paranoid psychosis”. [Para. 6]

In February 1987, Mr. Matter initiated proceedings in the District Court to determine whether his legal capacity could be restored. As a result of his refusal to submit to examination by experts, the District Court decided his capacity could not be restored. On appeal, the Supreme Court reversed the District Court’s decision, holding that an expert opinion was not obtained as required by law. The District Court then ordered that the applicant be examined in a mental hospital and on appeal this order was confirmed by the Regional Court. After twice inviting the applicant to submit to examination in a mental hospital, the applicant was warned that he could be brought to the hospital involuntarily if he failed to appear. On the 19 August 1993, Mr. Matter was brought to the hospital by policemen, and eventually cooperated with the examining expert who concluded that legal capacity could be partially restored. Following the expert’s opinion, in November 1993 the District Court then restricted the applicant’s legal capacity so that he could not act before public authorities, enter into contracts work regularly.

In a 1994 appeal, the applicant again requested complete legal capacity be restored to him and that the case be transferred to another court. The District Court dismissed the transfer request but quashed the November 1993 judgment on procedural grounds and determined it was necessary to obtain a second expert’s opinion on the applicant’s mental health.  Mr. Matter disagreed with the second examination.

Mr. Matter lodged an application with the European Commission in 1993 complaining about the fairness and length of the proceedings with regard to his legal capacity, as well as the fact that he was examined in a mental hospital against his will. He alleged that these were violations of Articles 6 § 1, which guaranteed the right to a fair trial and Article 8, which guaranteed the right to respect for private and family life of the European Convention on Human Rights (the “Convention”).

The Court held that reasonableness regarding the length of proceedings must be considered in light of the particular circumstances of each case with special regard to the complexity of the case as well as the conduct of both the applicant and the authorities in charge of the case. Furthermore, what is at stake for the applicant is relevant in cases relating to civil status and capacity, and “special diligence is required in view of the possible consequences which the excessive length of proceedings may have.”[Para. 54] In light of this, The Court held that Slovakia’s domestic courts failed to act with the special diligence required by Article 6 § 1.

With regard to forcible examination, the Court found that Slovakia did not violate Article 8 of the Convention. The Court held that competent national authorities were best placed to make determinations of legal capacity as they had the benefit of direct contact with the individuals concerned. It was held that ‘necessity’ in Article 8 implied proportionality between state interference and the legitimate social aims pursued. In determining whether a certain interference was “necessary in a democratic society” a court must apply an objective standard to the facts and look at the case as a whole. The Court held that the total deprivation of legal capacity was a serious interference with the right to private and family life in Article 8, and therefore it “may be appropriate in cases of this kind” to provide for re-examination measure to assess whether such an interference continues to be justified.

Recalling that the District Court initially tried to examine the applicant on a voluntary basis and later warned that non-compliance could result in his being brought to the hospital, the Court found the interference not to be disproportionate with the legitimate aims pursued and therefore “necessary in a democratic society” within the meaning of Article 8 § 2 of the Convention.

“…The Court considers that the domestic courts failed to act with the special diligence required by Article 6 § 1 of the Convention in cases of this nature. In these circumstances, and having regard to what was at stake for the applicant and to the state of the proceedings at 18 March 1992, the Court finds that the “reasonable time” requirement has not been respected. There has accordingly been a breach of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention.” [Para. 61]

 

“The Court finds that the forcible examination of the applicant in a hospital from 19 August to 2 September 1993 amounted to an interference with his right to respect for his private life as guaranteed by Article 8 § 1. Such interference constitutes a violation of this Article unless it is “in accordance with the law”, pursues an aim or aims that are legitimate under paragraph 2 of Article 8 and can be regarded as “necessary in a democratic society” to achieve the aim or aims concerned…The Court further finds no reason to doubt that it pursued the legitimate aim of protecting the applicant’s own rights and health. It remains to be determined whether the interference was “necessary in a democratic society” [paras. 64-65]

“The Court recalls that the notion of necessity implies that the interference corresponds to a pressing social need and, in particular, that it is proportionate to the legitimate aims pursued. In determining whether an interference was “necessary in a democratic society” the Court will take into account that a margin of appreciation is left to the Contracting States. Furthermore, the Court cannot confine itself to considering the impugned facts in isolation, but must apply an objective standard and look at them in the light of the case as a whole.” [para 66.]

“The applicant has been entirely deprived of legal capacity since 1983. There is no doubt that this is a serious interference with his rights under Article 8 § 1. In the Court’s view, it may be appropriate in cases of this kind that the domestic authorities establish after a certain lapse of time whether such a measure continues to be justified. Such a re-examination is particularly justified if the person concerned so requests. Moreover, under Section 10 (3) of the Civil Code the courts can be said to have a duty to monitor the continued existence of the reasons justifying deprivation or restriction of legal capacity” [para 68]

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