STC 132/2010

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A citizen appeared in the court of first instance, asking for judicial authorization to commit her uncle to a psychiatric hospital due to his mental disorders and alcoholism, in accordance with the first and second paragraphs of Article 763.1 of Law 1/2000 of the civil procedure code (“Art. 763.1”). The court of first instance remanded a question regarding the constitutionality of Art. 761 to the Constitutional Court, as such provisions appeared to develop the law regarding an individual’s fundamental right to liberty (and restrictions thereto), but had not been passed as an organic law, which was required pursuant to Articles 17.1 and 81.1 of the Spanish Constitution.

The State Attorney and the State Attorney General submitted pleadings in this case.  The State Attorney stated that Art 763.1 should not be deemed unconstitutional arguing, inter alia, that the right to personal freedom set forth in Article 17.1 of the Constitution was related to restrictions on freedom arising in criminal cases, and that issues raised by involuntary commitment due to mental disorder were more appropriately considered under Article 49 of the Constitution (which guaranteed the rights of handicapped individuals and did not require that related regulations be passed as organic law). The State Attorney General, on the other hand, argued that Art 763.1 should be deemed unconstitutional as regulations which developed limitations on fundamental rights.

The Court held that two subsections of Art. 763 were unconstitutional as the disputed provisions restricted fundamental rights of liberty guaranteed by Art. 17.1 of the Constitution and were therefore required to be passed as an organic law under Article 81.1 of the Constitution. However, the Court refused to void the law as it would led to an undesirable vacuum in the law, but rather urged the legislator to remedy the situation by regulating the involuntary commitment of the mentally ill via organic law.

“It is, indeed, doctrine of this Court that in the cases and manner mentioned in article 17.1 " the considerations must include the 'regular detention… of an insane person’ to which article 5.1 of the European Convention on Human Rights refers" (STC 104/1990, legal basis 2). While constituting of a deprivation of liberty, it is obvious that the decision to detain can only be determined judicially and, as relevant here, that the provision which made it possible can only be an organic law, since, given its status as one of standard setting where person may be deprived of liberty, it is part of the development of the fundamental right guaranteed in article 17.1 (STC 140/1986)."” [Section II(2)]

“Es, en efecto, doctrina de este Tribunal que dentro de los casos y formas mencionados en el artículo 17.1 «ha de considerarse incluida... la ‘detención regular… de un enajenado’, a la que se refiere el artículo 5.1 del Convenio Europeo de Derechos Humanos» (STC 104/1990, fundamento jurídico 2). En tanto que constitutiva de una privación de libertad, es obvio que la decisión de internamiento sólo puede ser acordada judicialmente y que, en lo que aquí importa, el precepto que la hace posible sólo puede ser una ley orgánica, pues, dada su condición de norma que fija uno de los casos en que una persona puede ser privada de libertad, concurre al desarrollo del derecho fundamental garantizado en el artículo 17.1 (STC 140/1986).» (FJ 2).” [Sección II(2)]

“The application of said doctrine to this case leads us to declare the unconstitutionality of those digressions of the first and second paragraphs of articles 763.1 of the Law 1/2000, dated January 7, which make the decision of non voluntary internment for reasons of mental disorder possible, since this constitutes a deprivation of liberty, this measure can only be regulated by Organic Law.” [Section II, Subsection 3]

“La aplicación de la citada doctrina al presente caso nos lleva a declarar la inconstitucionalidad de aquellos incisos de los párrafos primero y segundo del artículo 763.1 de la Ley 1/2000, de 7 de enero, que posibilitan la decisión de internamiento no voluntario por razón de trastorno psíquico, pues, en tanto que constitutiva de una privación de libertad, esta medida sólo puede regularse mediante ley orgánica.” [Sección II(3)]