The European Human Rights Court in Strasbourg (EHRC) issued a ruling stating that the Kingdom of Norway violated the right to respect of family life, which is protected by article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The case concerns a Norwegian woman Trude Strand Lobben and her son. Recently the EHRC accepted applications for review of sixteen further cases against Norway, regarding taking children away from their biological parents. The Ordo Iuris Institute developed an opinion on the proposed changes to the way that the Norwegian Child Protection Office – Barnevernet operates, which are intended as Norway’s response to the defeat in the tribunal in Strasbourg.
Trude Strand Lobben came into contact with the Norwegian social welfare system for the first time in 2008, when she intended to have an abortion in the sixth month of her pregnancy. Fortunately, the baby was not aborted. It was then however, that the woman, who was temporarily staying at her parents’ home at the time, agreed to stay in the home for the care for single mothers with children. Three weeks later she decided to leave the institution, which provoked the Norwegian Child Protection Office (Barnevernet) to issue a decision to temporarily deprive her of custody of her son; decision later upheld by the regional council of social assistance. The grounds for the decision was the alleged lack of parenting skills by the plaintiff, whose child was as a result placed in a foster family. In 2011, the regional council of social assistance permanently deprived Stand Lobben of her parental rights and agreed to the adoption of the baby by the foster parents. The mother appealed the decision of the regional council of social assistance to one court instance after another, however both the first instance, the second instance and the Norwegian Supreme Court upheld the unfavorable ruling.
Strand Lobben decided then to lodge a complaint to the European Human Rights Court in Strasbourg, where she accused the Norwegian authorities of violating article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The violation consisted in violating the right to respect of family life of her own, her son and her daughter, who was born in 2011 and remained in the custody of the parents and the children’s grandparents who acted as co-applicants in the proceeding. In a ruling of November 30, 2017, the judiciary chamber consisting of 7 Judges decided by a majority of 4 to 3, that there was no violation of article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. It furthermore decided unanimously that the applications of persons other than Strand Lobben and her son are inadmissible.
Acting on the basis of article 43 section 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the applicant requested to refer the case to the Grand Chamber of the European Human Rights Court, which found a number of violations during the proceedings in Norwegian courts and stated that the Norwegian authorities failed to consider the best interest of the biological family of the child as should have happened in such kind of cases. The verdict was reached with a majority of 13 to 4, with the judges from Norway, Denmark, Finland and Slovakia voting against the majority opinion.
Simultaneously with the proceedings before the Grand Chamber, the Norwegian authorities were developing a draft of the new law on protection of children. The draft was however criticized by the Norwegian journalist organizations, which formulated in the legal opinion they developed multiple objections connected with lack of transparency in the operation of the Norwegian Child Protection Office. Ordo Iuris Institute also prepared its own analysis of the draft law.
“The verdict in the case of Strand Lobben is yet another confirmation of systemic violations of human rights in Norway. Last year, a similar resolution finalized the case of Blondina Jansen, whose contacts with her child placed in foster care was limited and the Strasbourg Tribunal has a queue of sixteen analogous cases waiting for review. Meanwhile the Norwegian authorities are proposing a change in the law on protection of children, which does not solve any of the existing problems and may only lead to a further deterioration of the situation” said Bartosz Zalewski from the Ordo Iuris Institute Analysis Center.
The Institute shall soon publish a report on the violations perpetrated by the Norwegian Barnevernet.
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