CASE OF BONDAR v. UKRAINE
(Application no. 7097/18)
17 December 2019
This judgment is final but it may be subject to editorial revision.
In the case of Bondar v. Ukraine,
The European Court of Human Rights (Fifth Section), sitting as a Committee composed of:
Síofra O’Leary, President,
Lado Chanturia, judges,
and Milan Blaško, Deputy Section Registrar.
Having deliberated in private on 26 November 2019,
Delivers the following judgment, which was adopted on that date:
1. The case originated in an application (no. 7097/18) against Ukraine lodged with the Court under Article 34 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (“the Convention”) by a Ukrainian national, Mr Andriy Volodymyrovych Bondar (“the applicant”), on 31 January 2018.
2. The applicant was represented by Ms S. Aminova, a lawyer practising in Kherson. The Ukrainian Government (“the Government”) were represented by their Agent, Mr I. Lishchyna.
3. The applicant complained that the domestic authorities had failed to ensure the effective enforcement of the contact arrangements between him and his minor daughter. On 12 June 2018the Government were given notice of the complaints concerning the non-enforcement of the court decision on contact rights and the lack of an effective remedy in that regard; the remainder of the application was declared inadmissiblepursuant to Rule 54 § 3 of the Rules of Court.
I. THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE CASE
4. The applicant was born in 1986 and lives in Kherson. In 2010 he married V. On 12 June 2013 their daughter M. was born. On 15 July 2014 the couple divorced. On 16 January 2015 the court determined that the child should live with her mother.
5. The applicant instituted civil proceedings, claiming that V. had prevented him from having contact with his daughter. He asked the court to establish arrangements for regular contact with his child.
6. By the first-instance court’s judgment of 3 December 2015, as amended on 1 March 2016 by the Kherson Regional Court of Appeal, V. was instructed not to prevent the applicant from seeing the child and participating in her upbringing. The courts put in place the following contact arrangements. During the first two months the meetings between the applicant and his child would be held every Thursday for one hour in the presence of the child’s mother; during the third, fourth and fifth months the meetings would be extended to two hours; thereafter, the two-hour meetings would take place each Sunday and Thursday, as well as the day after New Year’s Day, Christmas Day, Easter, International Women’s Day, Independence Day and the child’s birthday.
7. On 7 September 2016 the Higher Specialised Court on Civil and Criminal Matters quashed the judgment of 1 March 2016 and remitted the case to the Court of Appeal for fresh consideration, finding that in determining the contact arrangements it had not properly examined all the relevant circumstances, notably the daily schedule of the child, who had to attend a childcare centre for specific treatment.
8. On 26 October 2016 the Kherson Regional Court of Appeal, having assessed all the circumstances, decided that the applicant should be granted two-hour meetings with his daughter every Sunday in the presence of the child’s mother. That judgment was upheld by the Higher Specialised Court on Civil and Criminal Matters on 22 June 2017.
9. On 16 February 2017 bailiffs initiated enforcement proceedings in respect of the judgment of 26 October 2016.
10. On 19 February 2017 the bailiff reported that the meeting between the applicant and child scheduled for that day had not taken place because the mother had refused to open the door.
11. On 21 February 2017 the bailiff decided to impose a fine on V. of 1700 hryvnias (UAH) on account of her failure to comply with the contact arrangements. V. challenged this decision, and the proceedings are still pending.
12. Between March 2017 and October 2018 the applicant regularly informed the bailiffs and the other authorities that the child’s mother was preventing him from seeing the child, in breach of the contact order. He contended that on 19 February, 12 March, 14 May, 2 and 16 July, 6 and 13 August, 10 September, 15 and 22 October, 19 and 26 November, 24 December 2017, 7 January, 4, 11 and 25 February, 4 March, 8 April, 6,13, 20 and 27 May, 3 and 24 June, 8 and 22 July, 12 August, 21 October2018 he could not see his child, despite his attempts. Some of the meetings that had actually taken place had been shortened by the child’s mother up to twenty minutes, instead of two hours prescribed by the court. In his letters the applicant requested that further measures be taken to ensure enforcement of the judgment.
13. On 27 June 2018 the bailiff served an official document on V. requesting her to comply with the contact schedule.
14. On 19 July 2018 the bailiff found that on numerous occasions in 2017 and 2018 the applicant could not meet his daughter without objective reasons and that V. did not always comply with the contact arrangements. V. was warned that she could face a fine and criminal punishment.
15. On 20 July 2018 the bailiff decided to impose a fine on V. of UAH 3,400 on account of her failure to comply with the contact schedule. She challenged this decision, and the proceedings are still pending.
16. On 8 August 2018 the applicant unsuccessfully asked the bailiff to arrange for a psychologist to assist in the enforcement proceedings.
II. RELEVANT DOMESTIC LAW
17. Section 63 of the Enforcement Proceedings Act of 2 June 2016 (in force since 5 October 2016) sets out the general conditions for the enforcement of judgments on prohibiting or abstaining from certain actions. The procedure provides that bailiffs may impose financial sanctions on persons against whom a judgment has been made and request the initiation of criminal proceedings against them in the event of non-compliance. Section 63(4) also provides that during the enforcement of a judgment of this kind bailiffs should notify the person against whom it has been made of the operative part and prepare a report to that effect; after the preparation of the report, the bailiff should terminate the enforcement proceedings.
18. On 3 July 2018 a new section 641 was introduced into the Enforcement Proceedings Act, dealing with the enforcement of judgments on child contact arrangements. Under this section, bailiffs may impose financial sanctions on persons against whom a judgment has been made and request the initiation of criminal proceedings against them in the event of non-compliance, as well as seek a temporary ban on them leaving Ukraine or impose a temporary driving ban.
I. ALLEGED VIOLATION OF ARTICLE 8 OF THE CONVENTION
19. The applicant complained that the domestic authorities had failed to ensure the effective enforcement of the contact arrangements between him and his minor daughter. He relied on Articles 8 and 13 of the Convention.
20. The Court, master of the characterisation to be given in law to the facts of the case (see Radomilja and Others v. Croatia [GC], nos. 37685/10 and 22768/12, § 114, 20 March 2018 and Vyshnyakov v. Ukraine, no. 25612/12, §§ 29 and 30, 24 July 2018), will examine the complaint from the standpoint of Article 8 of the Convention alone. Article 8 reads as follows:
“1. Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.
2. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”
1. The parties’ submissions
21. The Government submitted that the application should be declared inadmissible as the applicant had failed to exhaust domestic remedies. Notably, he should have challenged in court the actions and omissions of the bailiffs in charge of the enforcement of the contact arrangements.
22. The Government further submitted that the applicant had abused his right of application to the Court in that he had not presented a full picture of the enforcement proceedings, notably the measures taken by the bailiffs, in his application, apparently to mislead the Court.
23. The applicant contended that the child’s mother had frequently failed to comply with the weekly contact arrangements. He had required a prompt response on the part of the authorities, while any court action would have taken a considerable amount of time and would not have been effective. Moreover, he had complained about the bailiffs’ inactivity forty-seven times to the bailiffs’ superior without any tangible results. For these reasons, the applicant submitted that he had complied with the rule of exhaustion of domestic remedies.
24. The applicant further contested the Government’s submissions regarding the abuse of the right of application. He contended that he had not been aware of as many details of the enforcement proceedings as the Government and that, in any event, he had not had any intention to mislead the Court in his application.
2. The Court’s assessment
25. The Court reiterates that the only remedies which Article 35 § 1 of the Convention requires to be exhausted are those that relate to the breaches alleged and at the same time are available and sufficient. The existence of such remedies must be sufficiently certain not only in theory but also in practice, failing which they will lack the requisite accessibility and effectiveness; it falls to the respondent State to establish that these conditionsare satisfied (see, among other authorities,McFarlanev. Ireland[GC], no. 31333/06, § 107, 10 September2010).
26. The Court notes that in the case of Chabrowski v. Ukraine (no. 61680/10, § 108, 17 January 2013), where the complaint concerned the non-enforcement of a court decision in the area of family law, namely a decision ordering that an abducted child be returned to her parent, it found that the court action against bailiffs had not been effective. As to the present case, the Government did not demonstrate in what way any judicial action against the bailiffs by the applicant could have put right the alleged violation or accelerated the enforcement proceedings, nor did they furnish any examples of domestic case-law to that effect. The Government’s objection as to admissibility must therefore be dismissed.
27. As to the alleged abuse of the right of application, the Court reiterates that the submission of incomplete and thus misleading information may amount to an abuse of the right of application, especially if the information concerns the very core of the case and no sufficient explanation has been provided for the failure to disclose that information. However, even in such cases, the applicant’s intention to mislead the Court must always be established with sufficient certainty (see Gross v. Switzerland [GC], no. 67810/10, § 28, ECHR 2014, with further references).
28. In the present case, there does not appear to be any indication that the failure by the applicant to present some pieces of information regarding the domestic proceedings was premediated and could be classified as an intention to mislead the Court. Accordingly, this objection by the Government must be dismissed.
29. The Court notes that the application is not manifestly ill-founded within the meaning of Article 35 § 3 (a) of the Convention. It notes that it is not inadmissible on any other grounds. It must therefore be declared admissible.
30. The applicant maintained that the domestic authorities had failed to take appropriate measures to ensure that his child’s mother complied with the contact arrangements fixed by the courts.
31. The Government submitted that the bailiffs had taken all the relevant steps in order to enforce the contact arrangements.
32. The Court reiterates that mutual enjoyment by parent and child of each other’s company constitutes a fundamental element of “family life” within the meaning of Article 8 of the Convention (see, among other authorities, K. and T. v. Finland [GC], no. 25702/94, § 151, ECHR 2001‑VII). The general principles concerning the State’s positive obligations with respect to the contact rights of parents are described in Vyshnyakov (cited above, §§ 35-37, with further references).
33. In the present case, the relationship between the applicant and his daughter amounted to “family life” within the meaning of Article 8 of the Convention. It appears from the facts that numerous meetings between the applicant and his child did not take place owing to the conduct of the mother (see paragraphs 10-15 above).
34. There is nothing to suggest that during the enforcement proceedings the authorities ever considered putting in place arrangements to monitor voluntary compliance with the judgment. Moreover, it remains unclear to what extent the childcare and family services could have been involved in that regard and whether any family mediation could have been used. Although, admittedly, voluntary compliance is always preferable, the Court observes that the entrenched positions often taken by the parents in such cases can render such compliance difficult, making it necessary, in certain cases, to have recourse to proportionate coercive measures (see Vyshnyakov, cited above, § 43, with further references).
35. With regard to coercive measures, the bailiffs attempted to impose two fines on V., who later challenged them in the courts, and there is no information regarding whether she actually paid any of them. It is doubtful therefore that those sanctions had any coercive effect on her, as she continued to prevent contact between the applicant and his daughter (compare Kuppinger v. Germany, no. 62198/11, § 105, 15 January 2015).
36. In Vyshnyakov (cited above, § 46) the Court found that the inappropriate enforcement of court judgments on child contact arrangements had been caused by the lack of any developed legislative and administrative framework which could facilitate voluntary compliance arrangements involving family and childcare professionals. Furthermore, the available framework did not provide for appropriate and specific measures to ensure, subject to the proportionality principle, coercive compliance with contact arrangements (ibid.). The Court considers that these findings are equally pertinent to the present case. The minor legislative amendments to the enforcement proceedings (see paragraph 18 above) cannot prompt the Court to reach a different conclusion in the present case.
37. Accordingly, the Court finds that there has been a violation of Article 8 of the Convention.
II. APPLICATION OF ARTICLE 41 OF THE CONVENTION
38. Article 41 of the Convention provides:
“If the Court finds that there has been a violation of the Convention or the Protocols thereto, and if the internal law of the High Contracting Party concerned allows only partial reparation to be made, the Court shall, if necessary, afford just satisfaction to the injured party.”
39. The applicant claimed 12,000 euros (EUR) in respect of non‑pecuniary damage.
40. The Government submitted the claim was unsubstantiated.
41. The Court considers that the applicant must have suffered anguish and distress on account of the violation found in the present case. Ruling on an equitable basis, the Court awards the applicant EUR 7,500 in respect of non-pecuniary damage.
B. Costs and expenses
42. The applicant also claimed 12,000 Ukrainian hryvnias for the costs and expenses incurred before the Court.
43. The Government maintained that the claim was unfounded.
44. Regard being had to the documents in its possession and to its case‑law, the Court considers it reasonable to award the sum of EUR 414 for the costs and expenses.
C. Default interest
45. The Court considers it appropriate that the default interest rate should be based on the marginal lending rate of the European Central Bank, to which should be added three percentage points.
FOR THESE REASONS, THE COURT, UNANIMOUSLY,
1. Declaresthe application admissible;
2. Holdsthat there has been a violation of Article 8 of the Convention;
(a) that the respondent State is to pay the applicant, within three months the following amounts,to be converted into the currency of the respondent State at the rate applicable at the date of settlement:
(i) EUR 7,500 (seven thousand five hundred euros), plus any tax that may be chargeable, in respect of non-pecuniary damage;
(ii) EUR 414 (four hundred and fourteen euros), plus any tax that may be chargeable to the applicant, in respect of costs and expenses;
(b) that from the expiry of the above-mentioned three months until settlement simple interest shall be payable on the above amounts at a rate equal to the marginal lending rate of the European Central Bank during the default period plus three percentage points;
4. Dismissesthe remainder of the applicant’s claim for just satisfaction.
Done in English, and notified in writing on 17 December 2019, pursuant to Rule 77 §§ 2 and 3 of the Rules of Court.
Milan Blaško Síofra O’Leary
Deputy Registrar President