L.L v. France

Case No. 7509/02
Download Judgment: English French
Country: France
Region: Europe
Year: 2007
Court: The European Court of Human Rights
Health Topics: Health information
Human Rights: Right to privacy
Tags: Alcohol, Confidentiality, Disclosure, Health data, Health records, Medical records, Non-disclosure, Notification

In a proceeding for divorce, a confidential medical document (a correspondence between the applicant’s doctor and a specialist) indicating the applicant’s alcoholism was relied upon. The judge further quoted paragraphs from the document in his judgment and the divorce was granted on the grounds of fault committed by the applicant. The applicant’s request for legal aid was refused and he decided not to appeal the said judgment. The applicant relied on Article 8 of the Convention and alleged that his right had been violated.

The Court held that there had been a violation of the applicant’s rights under Article 8 of the Convention. The Court stated that the protection of private data is of fundamental importance. The Court stated that while in a case of divorce, some intimate information may be revealed, any unavoidable interference should be limited to the extent possible. It further stated that the Court in the divorce proceedings would have come to the same conclusion without the confidential medical documents and was using them only as a secondary or alternative grounds.

The Court firstly reiterates that the protection of personal data, not least medical data, is of fundamental importance to a person’s enjoyment of his or her right to respect for private and family life as guaranteed by Article8 of the Convention, bearing in mind that respect for the confidentiality of health data is a vital principle in the legal systems of all the Contracting Parties to the Convention. Consequently, domestic law must therefore afford appropriate safeguards to prevent any communication or disclosure of personal health data as may be inconsistent with the guarantees in Article 8 of the Convention (see Z v. Finland, cited above, § 95).(Para 44)

In the particular circumstances of the case, the Court does not find compelling the Government’s argument that the breach of the applicant’s right to respect for his private life was justified. Whilst the impugned measure may appear justified at first sight, it does not stand up to closer scrutiny. As the Government themselves have acknowledged (see paragraph 30 above), the production of the disputed document was not decisive in the granting of the divorce on grounds of fault by the applicant alone and was in fact only one of the items of evidence on which the domestic courts based their findings. The relevant domestic decisions referred, above all, to testimony concerning the applicant’s alcohol addiction and to the “duly substantiated” medical certificates referring to “the reality of the acts of violence to which [the wife had] been subjected”, thus concluding that the acts attributable to the husband constituted serious and repeated breaches of marital duties and obligations which had led to an irretrievable breakdown in the marriage. In reality, it was only on an alternative and secondary basis that the domestic courts used the disputed medical document in justifying their decisions, and it thus appears that they could have declared it inadmissible and still reached the same conclusion. In other words, the impugned interference with the applicant’s right to respect for his private life, in view of the fundamental importance of the protection of personal data, was not proportionate to the aim pursued and was therefore not “necessary in a democratic society for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others”.” (Para 46)