ANTKOWIAK v. POLAND (European Court of Human Rights)

FIRST SECTION
DECISION

Application no. 27025/17
Monika ANTKOWIAK and Patryk ANTKOWIAK
against Poland

The European Court of Human Rights (First Section), sitting on 22 May 2018 as a Chamber composed of:

Linos-Alexandre Sicilianos, President,
Kristina Pardalos,
Krzysztof Wojtyczek,
Ksenija Turković,
Armen Harutyunyan,
Pauliine Koskelo,
Jovan Ilievski, judges,
and Abel Campos, Section Registrar,

Having regard to the above application lodged on 30 March 2017,

Having deliberated, decides as follows:

THE FACTS

1.  The applicants, Ms Monika Antkowiak (“first applicant”) and Mr Patryk Antkowiak (“second applicant”), are Polish nationals, who were born in 1981 and 1983 respectively and live in Psary Małe. They were represented before the Court by Ms K. Staszak, a lawyer practising in Września.

A.  The circumstances of the case

2.  The facts of the case, as submitted by the applicants, may be summarised as follows.

1.  Background to the case

3.  The applicants are a married couple who wanted to adopt a baby from K.D., a woman they had found on the Internet and who (during her pregnancy) agreed to give her child up for adoption.

4.  On 7 February 2011 a baby boy, B, was born to K.D. She signed a declaration agreeing that the applicants would adopt her child. She stated that she did not know who the child’s father was. The applicants left the hospital with the child.

2.  Adoption proceedings

5.  On 10 March 2011 the applicants instituted proceedings for adoption of B (przysposobienie) before the Września District Court. They also applied for an interim order to secure the place of the child’s residence as being with them and grant them custody rights over B.

6.  On 21 March 2011 the Września District Court dismissed their application for an interim order and transferred the case to the Gryfice District Court. However, on 24 May 2011 the Szczecin Regional Court decided that the Września District Court should deal with the case.

7.  On 19 July 2011 the Września District Court suspended the proceedings pending the outcome of the proceedings for custody and parental rights (see paragraphs 11- 46 below).

3.  K.D.’s application for the return of the child

8.  On 1 March 2011 K.D. lodged an application with the Gryfice District Court for the return of the child. She submitted that B’s father, a Turkish national, U.Y., had recognised the paternity of the child on 24 February 2011. She confirmed that she had signed a declaration agreeing to the adoption of B but now she had changed her mind.

9.  On 2 March 2011 the Gryfice District Court transferred the case to the Września District Court.

10.  On 29 July 2011 the Września District Court dismissed K.D.’s request for the immediate return of the child.

4.  Proceedings for custody and parental rights

11.  On 4 April 2011 the applicants lodged an application with the Gryfice District Court to deprive K.D. of her parental rights (pozbawienie władzy rodzicielskiej) and to have their action secured by establishing that the child’s temporary place of residence was with them as well as by granting them custody rights over B (powierzenie wykonywania osobistej pieczy).

(a)  First interim order

12.  On 14 April 2011 the Gryfice District Court dismissed their application for an interim order as their application for a similar order had been dismissed in the adoption proceedings (see paragraph 6 above).

13.  On 20 May 2011 the Szczecin Regional Court gave an interim order and decided that B should reside with the applicants. The court found that the application in the adoption proceedings had been dismissed owing to a lack of consent for adoption and that the set of proceedings in hand concerned the way K.D. had so far executed her custody over B The court further held that the most important factor in the case was B’s best interest. He knew only the applicants and his biological mother was (of her own volition) a stranger to him.

14.  On 10 June 2011 the Gryfice District Court transferred the case to the Września District Court (in the light of the child’s place of residence).

15.  At the hearing held on 14 September 2011 the applicants’ application for deprivation of parental rights was extended to include B’s biological father. On the same date the Września District Prosecutor declared his participation in the proceedings.

(b)  Expert opinions

16.  On 19 January 2012 the Września District Court decided to obtain a report from experts at the Family Consultation Centre in Poznań (Rodzinny Ośrodek Diagnostyczno-Konsultacyjny‑ “the Poznań RODK”).

17.  On 17 April 2012 the report, prepared by two psychologists was submitted to the Września District Court. The experts came to the conclusion that there were no emotional bonds between B. and his biological parents. B. had formed a strong relationship with the applicants and treated them as his parents. The biological parents were not psychologically ready to take care of B. The mother, K.D., did not have the required psychological and emotional readiness towards the child and had not attempted to create a bond between them. The father, U.Y., was motivated by his biological rights as regards the child, and was not taking into account the child’s difficult situation or his attachment to the applicants as his primary caretakers. Lastly, breaking off the emotional bonds with the applicants, and in particular with the first applicant, would in the experts’ view, traumatise B. and hinder his development. For these reasons depriving the biological parents of parental rights over B had been justified.

18.  On 5 November 2012 the Września District Court ordered an additional opinion from the Family Consultation Centre in Konin (“the Konin RODK”).

19.  On 27 December 2012 experts from the Konin RODK (two child education specialists, a psychologist and a psychiatrist) submitted their report to the Września District Court. They stated in particular that there were no grounds for depriving the biological parents of their parental rights over B. The father had formally acknowledged his paternity as soon as he had learned about B’s birth and had been attempting to obtain custody of him. The mother, during the six weeks following the date of B’s birth, had changed her mind as to his adoption and had also requested his immediate return. In the experts’ opinion, in view of B’s best interest, it would be useful to appoint the applicants as foster parents for him and provide regular contact between the child and his biological parents.

20.  Following reorganisation of courts’ districts, on 1 January 2013 the Września District Court became a branch (ośrodek zamiejscowy) of the Środa Wielkopolska District Court.

21.  On 25 February 2013 the Ombudsman for Children’s Rights (Rzecznik Praw Dziecka) declared his participation in the proceedings in order to protect the child’s best interest and submitted that there were no grounds to deprive the biological parents of their parental rights over B.

(c)  Second interim order

22.  Meanwhile, on 22 February 2013 K.D. and U.Y. applied to have the decision of 14 April 2011 amended by establishing the child’s temporary place of residence as being with them. They also sought his immediate return.

23.  On 1 March 2013 the Środa Wielkopolska District Court branch in Września dismissed the biological parents’ application. It also dismissed the applicants’ application for an amendment to the interim order and an application by the Ombudsman for Children’s Rights to issue an interim order. It issued an interim order of its own motion to ensure contact between the biological parents and B. Contact was to take place twice a week at the applicants’ place of residence from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and every second week at the Poznań Local Committee for the Protection of Children’s Rights (Terenowy Komitet Ochrony Praw Dziecka) together with a psychologist.

24.  On 28 June 2013 the Poznań Regional Court dismissed an interlocutory appeal by the biological parents to be granted direct contact with B.

(d)  District Court’s decision on parental rights

25.  On 29 January 2014 the Środa Wielkopolska District Court branch in Września dismissed the applicants’ application to deprive K.D. and U.Y. of their parental rights and held that there were no grounds to restrict them. However, it suspended K.D. and U.Y.’s parental rights over B and extended the interim order of 20 May 2011 until the end of the proceedings concerning parental rights. The court also dismissed an application by the Ombudsman for Children’s Rights to surrender B to his biological parents.

26.  During the proceedings the court had regard to the expert opinions issued by the Poznań RODK and the Konin RODK. It also heard evidence from numerous witnesses. Both parties were represented by lawyers.

27.  The court established that the biological parents had had another son together (on 1 June 2012) and had got married on 22 September 2012. K.D. also had a daughter W. (born in 2000) from a previous relationship, who lived with her grandmother. U.Y and K.D. both worked in a small restaurant. The applicants had been married since 2004. They could not have their own children. Their financial and housing situation was good. B was a healthy child who had been living with the applicants since he was four days old and treated them as his parents. The court noted that the applicants used the name N., while the biological parents called him B. (as stated in the birth certificate).

28.  The court considered that B could not yet be reunited with his biological parents as their ties were not strong enough and B did not treat them as his parents. The court, taking into account the best interests of the child, decided that B should stay with the applicants. However, it did not exclude the possibility that the biological parents could form an attachment to and solid ties with B Consequently, under Article 110 of the Family and Custody Code of 1964, the court suspended the biological parents’ parental rights over B.

29.  Both parties and the Ombudsman for Children’s Rights appealed to the Poznań Regional Court.

(e)  Regional Court’s decision on parental rights

30.  On 17 November 2014 the Poznań Regional Court commissioned an additional opinion from the Konin RODK in order to establish whether it would be possible for B and his biological parents to create ties that would make surrendering him to them be in his best interests.

31.  On 25 February 2015 experts from the Konin RODK (two child education specialists, a psychologist and a psychiatrist) submitted their report to the Poznań Regional Court. The experts concluded that they could not answer the court’s question. In their view, in the circumstances of the case, it was impossible to find an emotionally neutral solution to resolve the child’s situation. They confirmed that B had very strong bonds of attachment to the applicants, his primary carers. He had good contact with his biological mother K.D. On the other hand there was no change in B’s relationship with his biological father, as the latter had often failed to show up for meetings.

32.  On 19 June 2015 the Poznań Regional Court held a hearing and heard the experts from the Konin RODK. The expert, E.A., stated that B treated the applicants as his parents and that they provided him with a stable environment. She further insisted that a child should have one home. The other expert, M.C.-S., stated that the relationship would never be strong enough to enable the safe surrender of B, which, in her view, was not for the moment in his best interests. A third expert, R.G., upheld her previous opinion that surrendering B to the biological parents would traumatise him and that all means should be found to minimise such a possibility.

33.  On 23 June 2015, taking into account the experts’ opinions, the Poznań Regional Court issued an interim order on contact arrangements. The biological parents were granted contact with B once a week (at the applicants’ place of residence, the biological parents’ place of residence and at the Local Committee for Children’s Rights).

34.  On 29 September 2015 the interim order was amended by adding a provision that contact would take place in the presence of a guardian.

35.  On 9 February 2016 the court commissioned an opinion from the Konin Regional Court experts in order to establish whether the change of contact arrangements had influenced the relationship between B and his biological parents so as to enable his being surrendered to them.

36.  In the opinion dated 9 August 2016, the experts concluded that emotional ties between B and his biological parents had not been created at a level which would have allowed him to be surrendered to them without traumatising him.

37.  Subsequently, various experts were heard during the proceedings: M.C.S. submitted that surrendering B to his biological parents would not traumatise him deeply but would create some feelings of discomfort. R.G. and A.P. argued that while there was no indication that B would suffer any harm under the care of his biological parents, at that point in time he should stay with the applicants. The Prosecutor General participated in the proceedings and also submitted that B should stay with the applicants. The Ombudsman for Children’s Rights, on the other hand, argued that B should live with his biological parents.

38.  The applicants and the biological parents were represented by lawyers in the proceedings before the Poznań Regional Court.

39.  On 16 December 2016 the Poznań Regional Court delivered its decision. It amended the decision of the court of first instance by holding that there were no grounds to suspend the biological parents’ parental rights over B. It obliged the applicants to surrender B to his biological parents by 18 March 2017 and authorised the biological parents to visit him once a week at their place of residence until that date in the presence of a guardian. It further restricted the biological parents’ parental rights by appointing a guardian and obliged them to provide B with psychological care. It also obliged the applicants to inform the child about the ruling and provide him with psychological care. Lastly, it required the applicants and the biological parents to attend therapy.

40.  The court observed at the outset that the present case represented a conflict between the applicants and the biological parents relating to the right to bring up a child. This conflict was centred on securing the participants’ own needs and not the needs and the interests of the child. In the court’s view, the biological parents’ aim was to recover the child without paying any attention to his psychological wellbeing. On the other hand, even though the applicants should have been aware of the temporary nature of the situation since the beginning of the proceedings, they had already, in their own minds, adopted the child and were focused on satisfying their own parenting needs.

41.  The court defined the child’s best interests taking into account Articles 8 and 9 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (see paragraph 56 below). It held that B’s situation of being with the applicants should be treated as temporary as the child felt that on an emotional level everything was fine. However, in the future he would have questions about his identity and would consider his situation as negative and different from that of his peers, which would be traumatic. The court explained that if the child had been left with the applicants as foster parents it would have only extended the trauma which B had experienced throughout the proceedings. This trauma was the biggest threat to the child’s development since it was aimed at his sense of security and emotional stability and had prevented him from accepting the final situation. For these reasons the court considered the option of staying with the applicants as being incompatible with B’s best interests.

42.  The court noted that both families were fit to raise B. Moreover, there were no grounds for doubting the biological parents’ parenting skills. They functioned as a family raising their second son I. and were ready to provide care for B. Therefore, in his best interests, B had to be surrendered to his biological parents and the ties with the applicants had to be broken in order to make way for a new relationship with the biological parents.

43.  The court referred to the child’s age and observed that it was true that B was already five years old, that he had developed emotional ties with the applicants as his primary carers, and that his life revolved around them. At the same time, he was only five years old and had at least twelve years ahead of him remaining in the care of his biological parents. Seeing the situation from that angle it was not possible to conclude that it was too late for B to be raised in his biological family.

44.  The court acknowledged that the solution was contrary to B’s will and would cause him suffering, but found that that was the only way to regulate his situation on a lasting basis and avoid more emotional complications in the future.

(f)  Enforcement proceedings

45.  On 20 July 2017 the Września District Court issued a writ of enforcement in respect of the decisions of 29 January 2014 and of 16 December 2016.

46.  On 3 August 2017 K.D. and U.Y instituted proceedings in order to enforce the decision of 16 December 2016. According to the applicants’ last letter to the Court (of 2 October 2017) the enforcement proceedings are pending.

5.  Proceedings to restrict K.D. and U.Y.’s parental rights

47.  On 13 February 2017 the applicants instituted proceedings before the Kołobrzeg District Court in order to restrict the biological parents’ parental rights over B. They asked to be appointed foster parents to B and applied for an interim order to secure the place of the child’s residence as being with them.

48.  On 16 March 2017 the Kołobrzeg District Court granted the interim order and decided that B should reside with the applicants.

49.  On 19 June 2017 the Koszalin Regional Court modified this decision and dismissed the applicants’ request for an interim order.

50.  In an opinion of 14 August 2017, commissioned by the Kołobrzeg District Court, expert psychologists concluded as follows:

“1.  B and the applicants are connected by strong emotional bonds typical of parent‑child relationships. (…) B has not developed any emotional bonds with his biological parents nor with his brother…

2.  The applicants are appropriate candidates to take care of B, as shown by the strong emotional bond between them, and by their correct parental mind-set…

3.  The applicants and the biological parents are not able to cooperate with each other in the child’s best interests. U.Y. refuses all attempts at any kind of agreement between them, thus excluding the possibility of adult cooperation …

4.  The applicants are determined to take care of the child, they treat him as their own child and represent his sense of security and stability (…). His biological parents are on the other hand determined to enforce their rights with respect to the child and seem to disregard the child’s emotional condition…

5.  A contra-indication for allowing the biological parents to take care of the child is the lack of emotional bonds between them, as well as the child’s psychological condition. As diagnosed by an expert psychiatrist, the boy presents symptoms of separation anxiety; he is hyperactive and suffers from nocturia, stomach aches and vomiting, has sleeping disorders and displays behaviour typical of developmental regression…

6.  Currently, it would not be possible to surrender the child to his biological parents without him suffering serious mental and emotional damage…

7.  … It is not possible to change the minor’s custodians without him suffering a serious, trauma type damage. For these reasons we propose to grant the applicants’ request.”

51.  On 25 August 2017 the Kołobrzeg District Court, referring to the experts’ opinion, again granted the interim order and decided that B should reside with the applicants for the duration of the proceedings.

52.  The proceedings are pending.

B.  Relevant law and practice

1.  Domestic law and practice

(a)  Suspension of parental rights

53.  Article 110 of the Family and Custody Code of 1964 (Kodeks Rodzinny i Opiekuńczy – “The Family Code”) states that if parental rights cannot be exercised they may be suspended by a court. Such a suspension will be lifted as soon as the reasons for it no longer exist.

(b)  Adoption

54.  Under Article 119 of the Family Code a child’s parents must consent to adoption unless they have been deprived of parental rights, are not known, or if there are significant obstacles in making contact with them.

55.  Under Article 1192 of the Family Code, the parents’ consent to an adoption cannot be given earlier than six weeks from the date of the birth of the child.

2.  Relevant international law materials

56.  The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, concluded in New York on 20 November 1989, contains, inter alia, the following provisions:

Article 3

“1.  In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.

2.  States Parties undertake to ensure the child such protection and care as is necessary for his or her well-being, taking into account the rights and duties of his or her parents, legal guardians, or other individuals legally responsible for him or her, and, to this end, shall take all appropriate legislative and administrative measures.”

Article 8

“1.  States Parties undertake to respect the right of the child to preserve his or her identity, including nationality, name and family relations as recognized by law without unlawful interference.

2.  Where a child is illegally deprived of some or all of the elements of his or her identity, States Parties shall provide appropriate assistance and protection, with a view to re-establishing speedily his or her identity.”

Article 9

“1.  States Parties shall ensure that a child shall not be separated from his or her parents against their will, except when competent authorities subject to judicial review determine, in accordance with applicable law and procedures, that such separation is necessary for the best interests of the child. Such determination may be necessary in a particular case such as one involving abuse or neglect of the child by the parents, or one where the parents are living separately and a decision must be made as to the child’s place of residence.

2.  In any proceedings pursuant to paragraph 1 of the present article, all interested parties shall be given an opportunity to participate in the proceedings and make their views known.

3.  States Parties shall respect the right of the child who is separated from one or both parents to maintain personal relations and direct contact with both parents on a regular basis, except if it is contrary to the child’s best interests.

4.  Where such separation results from any action initiated by a State Party, such as the detention, imprisonment, exile, deportation or death (including death arising from any cause while the person is in the custody of the State) of one or both parents or of the child, that State Party shall, upon request, provide the parents, the child or, if appropriate, another member of the family with the essential information concerning the whereabouts of the absent member(s) of the family unless the provision of the information would be detrimental to the well-being of the child. States Parties shall further ensure that the submission of such a request shall of itself entail no adverse consequences for the person(s) concerned.”

57.  General Comment no. 7 (2005) on implementing child rights in early childhood, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (“CRC”) sought to encourage the States Parties to recognise that young children were holders of all rights enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child and that early childhood was a critical period for the realisation of those rights. In particular, the Committee referred to the best interests of the child:

“13.  Article 3 sets out the principle that the best interests of the child are a primary consideration in all actions concerning children. By virtue of their relative immaturity, young children are reliant on responsible authorities to assess and represent their rights and best interests in relation to decisions and actions that affect their well-being, while taking account of their views and evolving capacities. The principle of best interests appears repeatedly within the Convention (including in articles 9, 18, 20 and 21, which are most relevant to early childhood). The principle of best interests applies to all actions concerning children and requires active measures to protect their rights and promote their survival, growth, and well-being, as well as measures to support and assist parents and others who have day-to-day responsibility for realizing children’s rights:

(a)  Best interests of individual children. All decision-making concerning a child’s care, health, education, etc. must take account of the best interests principle, including decisions by parents, professionals and others responsible for children. States parties are urged to make provisions for young children to be represented independently in all legal proceedings by someone who acts for the child’s interests, and for children to be heard in all cases where they are capable of expressing their opinions or preferences.”

58.  In its General Comment No. 14 (2013) on the right of the child to have his or her best interest taken as a primary consideration, the CRC further explained the concept of “child’s best interest”. The comment contains, inter alia, the following recommendations:

“36.  The best interests of a child shall be a primary consideration in the adoption of all measures of implementation. The words “shall be” place a strong legal obligation on States and mean that States may not exercise discretion as to whether children’s best interests are to be assessed and ascribed the proper weight as a primary consideration in any action undertaken.

37.  The expression “primary consideration” means that the child’s best interests may not be considered on the same level as all other considerations. This strong position is justified by the special situation of the child: dependency, maturity, legal status and, often, voicelessness. Children have less possibility than adults to make a strong case for their own interests and those involved in decisions affecting them must be explicitly aware of their interests. If the interests of children are not highlighted, they tend to be overlooked. ”

COMPLAINTS

59.  The applicants complained that the domestic court’s decision to surrender B to his biological parents had amounted to a breach of Article 8 of the Convention.

THE LAW

A.  Scope of the case

60.  The Court considers it necessary to clarify at the outset the scope of the present case. It notes that the application was lodged by the applicants solely in their own name. The applicants neither expressly nor in substance submitted any complaints on behalf of the child. Accordingly, the only issue to be determined in the instant case is whether there was a breach of the applicants’ own rights under Article 8 of the Convention.

B.  Alleged violation of Article 8 of the Convention

61.  The applicants complained that the domestic court’s decision to surrender B to his biological parents had infringed their right to family life as provided for in Article 8 of the Convention, which 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.  Applicability of Article 8 of the Convention

62.  The Court observes that while there are no biological ties between the applicants and the child, B has been in their constant care since his birth, for more than six years so far. Given the close personal ties between them and the fact that the applicants have assumed their roles as parents vis‑à-vis the child, the Court considers that such a relationship falls within the notion of family life within the meaning of Article 8 § 1 (see Moretti and Benedetti v. Italy, no. 16318/07, §§ 48-52, 27 April 2010).

2.  Compliance with Article 8 of the Convention

63.  The applicants in the present case were affected by a judicial decision which ordered the child’s removal and placement with his biological parents. The Court considers that this measure constituted an interference with the applicants’ right to respect for their family life. Any such interference will be in breach of Article 8 unless it is “in accordance with the law”, pursues an aim or aims that are legitimate under Article 8 § 2 and can be regarded as “necessary in a democratic society.

(a)  “In accordance with the law” and “legitimate aim”

64.  The Court observes that the measure to reunite B with his biological parents was taken in accordance with the law, namely the relevant provisions of the Family and Custody Code (see paragraph 53 above), and there is no reason to doubt that it was intended to protect B’s “rights and freedoms”.

(b)  “Necessary in a democratic society”

65.  In determining whether the impugned measure was “necessary in a democratic society”, the Court will consider whether, in the light of the case as a whole, the reasons adduced to justify it were relevant and sufficient for the purpose of paragraph 2 of Article 8 of the Convention (see, for example, K. and T. v. Finland [GC], no. 25702/94, § 154, ECHR 2001‑VII4).

66.  The Court reiterates firstly that there is a broad consensus, including in international law, in support of the idea that in all decisions concerning children, their best interests are of primary importance (see, among other authorities, Paradiso and Campanelli v. Italy [GC], no. 25358/12, § 208, ECHR 2017 and the references to international law in paragraphs 56-58 above).

67.  In this respect the Court notes that the Regional Court held that B’s best interest was the primary consideration in the case (see paragraph 41above). It went on to examine the available options and concluded that, although the adopted solution would be very difficult for B and would cause him suffering, it was the only way to regulate his situation in the long term and to avoid more emotional complications in the future (see paragraphs 41 and 44 above).

68.  The Regional Court had carefully analysed B’s best interests, it had noted that B had developed bonds of attachment with the applicants. At the same time it took into account the child’s young age and the fact that it was not too late to give him a chance to be raised in his biological family (see paragraph 43 above).

69.  The Court further observes that it was not alleged in the domestic proceedings that the applicants were not suited to raising B. On the contrary, they were found to be fit and capable of securing his basic needs (see paragraph 42 above). As regards the biological parents, it is true that initially the authorities had some doubts regarding their parenting skills (see paragraphs 17 above). However, subsequently ‒ in view of the expert opinions ‒ they were likewise deemed to be fit to raise B (see paragraph 42 above).

70.  The Court observes that in the present case the domestic courts had to make a difficult choice between allowing the applicants to continue their relationship with B and taking measures with a view to bringing about the boy’s reunion with his biological family (compare and contrast with Paradiso and Campanelli, cited above, § 209).

71. The Court recognises that in the instant case the authorities undertook measures directed towards facilitating family reunification in order for the child to develop bonds with his biological parents (see, mutatis mutadis, K. and T. v. Finland, cited above, § 179). In particular, the Środa Wielkopolska District Court, of its own motion, issued an interim order to ensure contact between the biological parents and B. (see paragraph 23 above). These contact arrangements were subsequently modified in view of the expert opinions (see paragraph 33 above).

72.  Against this background, the Court considers that the domestic authorities were faced with the difficult and sensitive task of striking a fair balance between the competing interests in a complex case. However, in their decisions, as required by international law, their primary consideration was always B’s best interest (see paragraphs 28 and 41 above). While the Court acknowledges the emotional hardship that the Poznań Regional Court’s decision must have caused the applicants, their rights cannot override the best interests of the child (see, among other authorities, Görgülü v. Germany, no. 74969/01, § 43, 26 February 2004). Taking into account the fact that the domestic authorities had the benefit of contact with all those concerned, the Court concludes that the national authorities provided relevant and sufficient reasons within their margin of appreciation and that the impugned measures hence did not run contrary to the requirement that any restrictions on the right to family life must be “necessary in a democratic society”.

73.  The Court notes that the case brought by the applicants was examined at two levels of jurisdiction. The District Court heard numerous witnesses and obtained several expert opinions (see paragraph 26 above). During the appeal proceedings, the Poznań Regional Court obtained additional expert reports and also heard evidence from the experts (see paragraphs 30, 32, 35, 37 above). The experts’ views were not consistent and the Regional Court was presented with diverging professional opinions as to which decision would be in the best interest of B. However, it examined and assessed the different reports and testimonies. The judicial decisions provided extensive reasons for their findings and addressed the arguments raised by the applicants.

74.  The case was also examined by the Ombudsman for Children’s Rights, who had carefully assessed the child’s situation. He had decided to intervene in the judicial proceedings in order to defend B’s best interests and in his submissions he had maintained that there were no grounds to deprive the biological parents of their parental rights (see paragraph 21 above).

75.  With respect to domestic procedures, the Court cannot but note that the length of the decision-making process in the present case clearly did not contribute to the protection of B’s best interests.  It observes however that the applicants were fully involved in the proceedings before the District and Regional Courts and legally represented throughout these proceedings (see paragraphs 26 and 38 above). Taking account of the above, the Court is also satisfied that the domestic decision-making process was fair and capable of safeguarding their rights under Article 8 of the Convention (see R. and H. v. the United Kingdom, no. 35348/06, § 75, 31 May 2011).

76.  It follows that the application is manifestly ill-founded and must be rejected in accordance with Article 35 §§ 3 (a) and 4 of the Convention.

For these reasons, the Court, by a majority,

Declares the application inadmissible.

Done in English and notified in writing on 14 June 2018.

Abel Campos                                                            Linos-Alexandre Sicilianos
Registrar                                                                              President

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