Matter v Slovakia 31534/96 [1999] ECHR 38

Proceedings relating to capacity are covered by Art 6 ECHR; in assessing whether the proceedings are completed within a reasonable time, account has to be taken of any complexity arising from the need for expert evidence and any conduct by the patient, but special diligence is required from the court in light of the importance of the question. A forced medical examination, which is an interference for the purposes of Art 8(1), could be a proportionate method of protecting a patient’s rights as part of the resolution of capacity proceedings and so justified for the purposes of Art 8(2) ECHR. [MHLR.]

MHLR

The summary below has been supplied by Kris Gledhill, Editor of the Mental Health Law Reports. The full report can be purchased from Southside Online Publishing (if there is a "file not found" error, it means this particular report is not yet available online). More similar case summaries from the year 1999 are available here: MHLR 1999.

Delays in an application to restore capacity – whether in breach of the reasonable time requirement in Art 6(1) ECHR; forced medical examination – whether in breach of Art 8 - Matter v Slovakia [1999] MHLR 135

Points Arising: Proceedings relating to capacity are covered by Art 6 ECHR; in assessing whether the proceedings are completed within a reasonable time, account has to be taken of any complexity arising from the need for expert evidence and any conduct by the patient, but special diligence is required from the court in light of the importance of the question. A forced medical examination, which is an interference for the purposes of Art 8(1), could be a proportionate method of protecting a patient’s rights as part of the resolution of capacity proceedings and so justified for the purposes of Art 8(2) ECHR.

Facts and Outcome: M’s legal capacity was taken away by a court on the basis that he was mentally ill. In February 1987, he applied to have it restored, and the proceedings were still ongoing in 1999 (though only the period since Slovakia became bound by the ECHR in 1992 was directly taken into account). It was held that these were proceedings to which Art 6 applied, as they determined his capacity to acquire rights and undertake obligations. The application was initially dismissed by the District Court in February 1989 because M had refused to be examined by experts, but this was quashed by the Supreme Court in May 1990; the District Court then appointed an expert and, after M’s continued refusal to be seen, ordered M to see the expert, but this was overturned by the Regional Court in July 1992 as the District Court had not appointed a guardian; subsequently, after a guardian had been appointed and agreed that M should be examined, the District Court ordered this, and the Regional Court upheld the order, and in August 1993 M was taken by police to hospital to be examined. He was in hospital for 2 weeks; the expert opinion was that M’s capacity could be restored partially, which was ordered in November 1993 (with ongoing restrictions on M’s ability to act before public authorities on his own, conclude contracts, assume obligations in writing or work regularly); M’s appeal to the Regional Court, which was delayed as M had objected to the court, resulted in an October 1995 quashing of the order of November 1993 on the basis that the District Court had not heard from the expert, contrary to domestic law. An updated medical report was required, and in October 1996 the District Court requested the Ministry of Health to recommend a second expert, which was done in November 1996; in October 1997, the District Court ordered M’s examination by the second expert, which M refused; in October 1998, the proceedings were stayed pending M’s examination. In November 1996, the guardian requested that another body be appointed, which was done in October 1997; there was a further change of guardian in April 1999.

The European Court of Human Rights determined that this chronology revealed a breach of the requirement in Art 6(1) that there be a trial within a reasonable time. It noted that (i) what was reasonable turned on the facts, including the complexity of the case and the conduct of the parties, but that a special diligence was required if what was at stake was a matter so important as capacity; and (ii) on the facts, there was some complexity because of the need for expert evidence and M had contributed to the delay by his conduct and challenge to the court, but that the District Court’s errors in failing to appoint a guardian at the outset, failing to hear from the expert when it made its order in November 1993, and the unexplained delay in appointing a second expert meant that there had not been the special diligence required in light of the nature of the case, and so the reasonable time requirement of Art 6(1) was breached.

Whilst the forced examination of M in hospital amounted to an interference with the right to respect for private life in Art 8(1), it was justified under Art 8(2) as it was in accordance with domestic law, pursued the legitimate aim of protecting M’s own rights and health, and was not disproportionate in light of the need to determine the capacity proceedings. In relation to the latter question, an objective standard is applied, and a margin of appreciation is left to the Contracting States, as the national authorities are best placed to determine the complex issues (such as the obtaining of an expert opinion) and have direct contact with the persons concerned.

Old wiki summary

In proceedings to determine whether or not legal capacity could be restored to the applicant, the domestic courts failed to act with the special diligence required by Article 6(1).

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