ECHR: NGOs can now bring States to court to protect people without defence

The Grand Chamber the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has delivered a landmark decision which will enable NGOs to lodge a case on behalf of extremely vulnerable children and young people who cannot represent themselves and have nobody who can act as a voice for them.

In the case “The Centre for Legal Resources On Behalf of Valentin Câmpeanu v. Romania” (17 July 2014), the ECHR found the State of Romania guilty of having placed Valentin Câmpeanu in a psychiatric hospital that had unreasonably put his life in danger. Furthermore, there had been no effective investigation into the circumstances of his death.

Valentin Câmpeanu was a young Romanian citizen of Roma origin born in 1985 and abandoned in an institution at birth. He was HIV positive and suffering from a severe mental disability. He died in a psychiatric hospital in Romania at the age of 18.

This judgement is important because it sets a precedent in the decisions of the ECHR: from today on, NGOs will be able to lodge a case on behalf of people without a voice. This gives hope to all young people who have been abandoned in the institutional system without defence for themselves.

The application was lodged by the NGO Centre for Legal Resources (CLR) on behalf of Valentin. NGO’s do not normally have a standing to file complaints with the European Court of Human Rights. In Valentin’s case however, the Court found that: in the exceptionality of the circumstances and bearing in mind the serious nature of the allegations; it was open to the CLR to act as Valentin’s representative. The Court found it significant that the CLR’s right to represent Valentin before the Romanian medical and judicial authorities, had never been questioned or challenged when the CLR had brought proceedings aimed at clarifying the circumstances leading up to his death.

Such initiatives would normally be the responsibility of a guardian or representative. However, Valentin did not have any relatives and no guardian was appointed upon reaching majority, even though the authorities would have been required by law to do so. In view of his extreme vulnerability, being unable to take care of himself, Valentin had not been capable of initiating any proceedings to complain about his situation while he was alive without proper legal support and advice.

Finding that the violations of the Convention in Valentin’s case reflected a wider problem, the Court recommended Romania to take the necessary general measures to ensure that mentally disabled persons in a comparable situation were provided with independent representation enabling them to have complaints relating to their health and treatment examined before an independent body.

Find more information about the case

Press release of the ECHR