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Grand Chamber hearing for Bulgaria human rights complaint

A man placed in a psychiatric institution for years will have his complaint against Bulgaria heard by the European Court of Human Rights tomorrow.

Judges will deliver a Grand Chamber judgment in the case of Stanev v. Bulgaria (application no. 36760/06) at a public hearing. The case concerns a man who claims he was placed against his will for many years in a psychiatric institution in a remote mountain location in degrading conditions.

Principal facts

The applicant, Rusi Kosev Stanev, is a Bulgarian national who was born in 1956 and lives in Pastra in Rila, south-western Bulgaria. In 2000 and 2001 the Bulgarian courts found Stanev to be partially incapacitated, on the ground that he had been suffering from schizophrenia since 1975 and was unable to manage his own affairs adequately or realise the consequences of his actions.

In 2002, he was placed under the partial guardianship of a council officer as his family did not wish to take on guardianship responsibilities for him. On 10 December 2002 his guardian took the decision to have him placed in the Pastra social care home for men with psychiatric disorders, in a remote mountain location near the village of Pastra. He has lived there ever since.

The director of the home subsequently became his guardian. Mr Stanev was only allowed to leave the home with the director’s permission. On one occasion, when he did not return from a period of organised leave, the director contacted the police, who located him. He was then returned to the home by staff members.

Conditions in the home, built in the 1920s, were considered to constitute inhuman and degrading treatment by Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) on its official visits in 2003 and 2004.

The CPT noted that the buildings were dilapidated, there was no running water in the buildings and the toilets were decrepit and in an execrable state in the yard. The available heating was inadequate, as was the residents’ diet, which contained no milk or eggs and rarely fruit and vegetables. No therapeutic activities were provided and residents led passive, monotonous lives. Improvements to the home were not carried out until 2009.

Stanev tried to have his legal capacity restored in November 2004. In 2005, prosecutors refused to bring a case, finding that Stanev could not cope alone and that the home was the most suitable place for him, following a medical report of 15 June 2005 which stated that he showed signs of having schizophrenia.

Stanev tried unsuccessfully to have his partial guardianship over-turned by asking the Mayor of Rila to bring a court case. His application for judicial review of the mayor’s refusal was rejected on the ground that an application could be made by his guardian. Stanev has made several oral requrests to his guardian to apply for release which have all been refused.

On 31 August 2006 a private psychiatric report found that Stanev had been incorrectly diagnosed as schizophrenic on 15 June 2005 but that he was prone to alcohol abuse, the symptoms of which could be confused with schizophrenia. It was also found that his mental health had improved and was not at risk of deteriorating and that the home’s director thought he was capable of being reintegrated into society.

On the other hand, his health was being damaged by his stay in the home, where he risked becoming institutionalised.

Complaints procedure

Under Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman and degrading treatment) of the European Convention on Human Rights and Article 13 (right to an effective remedy), Stanev complains about the living conditions in the Pastra care home.

He also complains, under Article 5 §§ 1, 4 and 5 (right to liberty and security) of the Convention, that he was deprived of his liberty unlawfully and arbitrarily as a result of his placement in a care home against his will and that it is impossible under Bulgarian law to have the lawfulness of his deprivation of liberty examined or to seek compensation in court.

Relying on Article 6 (right to a fair hearing), he further complains that he could not apply to a court to seek release from partial guardianship. Lastly, he alleges that the restrictions resulting from the guardianship regime, including his placement in the home, infringed his right to respect for his private life, relying on Article 8 (right to respect for private life) and Article 13.

The application was lodged with the European Court of Human Rights on 8 September 2006. A Chamber hearing on the admissibility and merits of the case was held in public, on 10 November 2009, and it was declared admissible on 29 June 2010. On 14 September 2010 the Chamber dealing with the case relinquished jurisdiction in
favour of the Grand Chamber. A Grand Chamber hearing was held in public on 9 February 2011.

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