Father denied contact claims violation of his right to respect for family life

family law

Viewing foreign language cases via online translation

I’m going to attempt something that I’ve never done before, and that I would certainly not recommend to anyone wishing to make a serious study of a case. This is really just an experiment, but may still be useful.

As the reader may know, some judgments of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) are only available in one language. In particular, for our purposes on this side of the channel, some are only available in French. Obviously, this can mean that those of us who, like me, have a very limited understanding of French (my O-level was too long ago to remember) are denied access to judgments of interest.

For a serious study of a foreign-language case a proper expert translation should of course be obtained. However, that involves time and expense, so isn’t an option for many. How about using instead a free online translation service? Now, these services have been around for some years, and I have often tried them. In the early days they were completely hopeless, but they have improved of late, and I thought I would give it a go for a French-only ECHR report.

The service I used was the one that comes with the Chrome browser, which I assume is the Google Translate service. The translation comes up almost instantly and the results, initially at least, are impressive. However, further inspection shows up a number of issues. Still, I think the translation is good enough to get a pretty good idea of what the case was about, and the decision made by the court. You just have to be a bit careful as you read it, particularly as some of the errors are not immediately obvious.

So to the case. It is Endrizzi v Italy, a claim by a father that the failure of the courts to secure his contact with his son amounted to a breach of his right to respect for family life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Regular readers may recall that I have written here previously about similar cases, including one case in which the father’s claim succeeded and another in which it failed. I suspect that such cases will become more common, as a last resort for parents whose efforts to secure contact with their children through their national courts have failed.

Now, in the light of the translation issue I am going to be a bit sparing with my description of the case, to ensure that what I do say is as accurate as possible.

The facts of the case were that the parents were married, and lived together in northern Italy. They had one child, a son, born in January 2005. The marriage broke down soon thereafter, and the mother left the matrimonial home in July 2005, taking the child with her, and moved 1,000 kilometres south, to Sicily. In 2007 a legal separation was pronounced, and it was agreed that the parents would share custody of the child, that he would reside with the mother in Sicily and that the father would have extensive contact with him.

Now, this is where the translated details become a little unclear. In November 2007 the mother filed a complaint against the father, alleging that he had sexually assaulted the child. The allegation was investigated by the authorities, and no evidence of sexual abuse was found, so the complaint was dismissed. It seems that the mother then filed a similar complaint in 2008, and that for some reason that complaint was not dealt with until 2011. Whatever, it seems that the father was not allowed any significant contact with his son whilst these matters were under investigation. That investigation was completed and in 2011 and it appears that once again no evidence was found against the father, as the court decided that there was no longer any need to prohibit contact between the father and his son.

After this, the father’s difficulties in securing contact were largely due to the time that had elapsed since he last had meaningful contact, and the boy’s reluctance to see his father, possibly due to pressure from the mother. Various steps were taken by the courts to try to re-establish contact, including requesting social services to investigate the matter, but these efforts came to nothing. As a result, the father has not had proper contact with his son since 2007.

The father then made his application to the ECHR. The court found that the authorities had failed to exercise due diligence in the case, and that their actions were below what could reasonably have been expected of them. In particular the domestic courts did not take appropriate measures to establish effective contact. There had also been a three year delay in dealing with the second criminal complaint. In perhaps the most telling part of the ECHR judgment it said (according to the translation):

“The Court observed that the courts … tolerated, for about seven years, that the mother, by her behaviour, prevented the establishment of a genuine relationship between the applicant and the child.”

The judgment went on to say that the domestic court undertook “a series of automatic and stereotyped measures, such as successive requests for information and a delegation of the supervision of the family to social services”, which (it seems) did nothing to progress the matter and only consolidated the position of the mother, who was in breach of court orders.

In the light of these matters the ECHR held that the national authorities did not make adequate and sufficient efforts to enforce the applicant’s right of access and that there had therefore been a breach of Article 8. The father was awarded damages of 15,000 Euros, plus costs.

I hope that the above represents a reasonable summary of the case, although obviously this post cannot be relied upon as being 100 per cent accurate.

The full report of Endrizzi v Italy is available here, in French. If you use the Chrome browser an English translation may be found by right-clicking on the report and selecting ‘Translate to English’. Other methods of online translation are available.

Photo of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, by Mathieu Nivelles via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence.

John Bolch

John Bolch often wonders how he ever became a family lawyer. He no longer practises, but has instead earned a reputation as one of the UK's best-known family law bloggers.

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