Facts: The Applicants, Mr Marijus Jucius and Mrs Gertrūda Juciuvienė, are Lithuanian nationals. The case concerns the complaint by the Applicants about a violation of their right to family life as the domestic courts originally granted permanent custody of their two orphaned nieces to grandparents.
In April 1999 Mr Jucius’ sister and her partner died and the Applicants were awarded temporary custody of their nieces, RS and DS, then four and six months old. The children’s grandparents also applied to adopt RS and DS. Accordingly, the Applicants submitted a counter-claim. On 22 December 1999 the Mažeikiai District Court recognized the girls as their adopted children and in August 2002 the domestic courts decided to grant permanent custody to the grandparents. The court justified this decision on account of the better financial and living conditions of the grandparents, as well as the fact that they were closer blood relatives to the girls. RS, then aged 7, objected and expressed her desire to stay with the Applicants. Unfortunately, her objection was rejected by the court.
On 21 March 2003, when the bailiff attempted to execute the courts’ decision, RŠ refused to leave the home of the applicants and DŠ was taken to the grandparents. The Prosecutor General decided to reopen the proceedings. As a consequence, The Telšiai District Court granted permanent custody of RŠ to the Applicants, who lived in Mažeikiai, and permanent custody of DŠ to the grandparents, who lived in Klaipėda.
Holding: Yes, there has been a violation of Article 8 of the Convention.
The Court found it unnecessary to consider the matter separately under Article 6 § 1.
Court’s Rationale: Firstly, the European Court of Human Rights stated that the existence of “family life” essentially depends on the genuineness of close personal ties.
Furthermore, the Court noted that although Article 8 does not contain any specific time requirements, “the decision-making process leading to such an interference must be fair and such as to afford due respect for the interests safeguarded by Article 8”. Consequently, the Court held that the proceedings had been of crucial importance for the Applicants and had involved an assessment of their character as well as of their nieces’ wishes. It was stressed that to ensure the best interests of the orphaned children in the future, RS and DS should be given the opportunity to be heard before the court and to fully participate in the proceedings.
Unfortunately, the Applicants’ appeal had been determined by way of a written procedure. Furthermore, the courts were prompted to amend those decisions and to rule partly in favour of the applicants by granting them the custody of RŠ only on account of her continued resistance. The Court also recalled that future relations between parent and child should not be determined by the mere passing of time. The ECtHR concluded that “the initial decision-making process which fixed the custody and access arrangements in relation to RŠ and DŠ did not afford the requisite protection of the applicants’ interests as safeguarded by Article 8”.