JUDGMENT IN THE CASE OF VENEMA v. THE
Press release issued by the Registrar
The European Court of Human Rights has today notified in writing a judgment [fn1] in the case of Venema v. the Netherlands (application no. 35731/97). The Court held unanimously that:
there had been a violation of Article 8 (right to respect for family life) of the European Convention on Human Rights;
no separate issue arose under Article 6 (right to a fair hearing).
Under Article 41 (just satisfaction) of the Convention, the Court awarded the applicants 15,000 euros (EUR) for non-pecuniary damage and EUR 22,475 for costs and expenses.
(The judgment is available only in English.)
1. Principal facts
Venema, Wubbechien Venema-Huiting and Kimberly Venema are
In July and August 1994 Kimberly was taken into hospital because her breathing sometimes stopped and her heart beat too fast. The doctors found nothing physically wrong and began to suspect that Kimberly was healthy and that Mrs Venema might be suffering from Münchhausen by Proxy syndrome [fn2]. The Venema family was kept under medical observation but the doctors did not discuss their suspicions with Mr and Mrs Venema.
was again taken into hospital on
doctors held a meeting with a representative of the Child Welfare Board on
January 1995 the juvenile judge made a provisional supervision order (voorlopige
ondertoezichtstelling), without hearing Mr and Mrs Venema, at the same time
ordering Kimberly to be placed away from her family. Mr and Mrs Venema were
only informed of the decision on
On 10 January 1995 Mr and Mrs Venema were heard by the juvenile judge, who decided that the provisional supervision order should remain in force, but that further opinions should be obtained as soon as possible both from a psychiatrist and a child psychiatrist. Mr and Mrs Venema were allowed to see Kimberly once every two weeks under an access arrangement.
The psychiatrist s report concluded that there were no indications that Mr and Mrs Venema posed any danger to Kimberly, although it could "not be entirely ruled out" that Mrs Venema was suffering from Münchhausen by Proxy Syndrome.
and Mrs Venema appealed, submitting various medical accounts supporting their
case, including statements from three psychiatrists who recommended that
Kimberly be returned to them as she would be in no apparent danger. On
On 22 May 1995, following a hearing in camera, the juvenile judge rescinded the provisional supervision order and the placement order, at the same time refusing to replace the provisional supervision order with a permanent one. Kimberly was handed back to Mr and Mrs Venema.
The case led to questions in Parliament and a complaint to the Deputy Minister of Justice (Staatssecretaris van Justitie) who ordered an official enquiry. The report of the official inquiry concluded, among other things, that although the Child Welfare Board had no doubt sought in good faith to protect Kimberly s interests, it might with advantage "have displayed more creativity in seeking a solution that did more justice to the parents interests".
2. Procedure and composition of the Court
application was lodged with the European Commission of Human Rights on
Judgment was given by a Chamber of seven judges, composed as follows:
Jean-Paul Costa (French), President,
Loukis Loucaides (Cypriot),
Corneliu Bîrsan (Romanian),
Karel Jungwiert (Czech),
Volodymyr Butkevych (Ukrainian),
Antonella Mularoni (San Marinese), judges,
and also Sally Dollé, Section Registrar.
3. Summary of the judgment
The applicants alleged, in particular, that their rights under Articles 6 and 8 had been violated through the separation of their family, which was not justified on medical grounds and was not discontinued as soon as this became apparent, and in that Mr Venema and Mrs Venema-Huiting had not been involved in the decision-making process that led to the separation.
Decision of the Court
The Court accepted that, when action had to be taken to protect a child in an emergency, it might not always be possible, because of the urgency of the situation, to associate in the decision-making process those having custody of the child. Nor might it even be desirable to do so if those having custody of the child were seen as the source of an immediate threat to the child.
However, the Court had to be satisfied that the national authorities were entitled to consider that there existed circumstances justifying the abrupt removal of a child from the care of its parents without any prior contact or consultation. In particular, it had to be established that a careful assessment of the impact of the proposed care measure on the parents and the child, and the possible alternatives, had been carried out prior to the implementation of a care measure.
The Court found that it had not been explained to its satisfaction why the doctors involved in the case or the Child Welfare Board could not have made arrangements to discuss their concerns with the applicants and to give them an opportunity to dispel those concerns, if need be with reference to their own medical experts opinions. The Court was not persuaded that the applicants might have reacted unpredictably if the matter was discussed with them. In the Court s opinion, that justification, while it might be relevant, could not of itself be considered sufficient to exclude Kimberly s parents from a procedure of immense personal importance to them, the less so having regard to the fact that Kimberly was in perfect safety (in hospital) in the days preceding the making of the provisional order.
applicants were at no stage able to influence the outcome of the procedure by,
for example, contesting the reliability of the information compiled in their
case or adding information from their own sources to the file. It was not
For the Court, it was crucial for the parents to be able to put forward their own point of view at some stage before the making of the provisional order. The unjustified failure to allow them to participate in the decision-making process leading to the making of the provisional order denied them the requisite protection of their interests under Article 8 of the Convention including their right to challenge the necessity for the measure sought by the Child Welfare Board. That measure, it had to be noted, formed the basis of the regrettable separation of the applicants and their daughter for a period of five months and 18 days. Finding that the competent authorities had presented the applicants with faits accomplis without sufficient justification, the Court held that there had been a violation of Article 8.
Article 6 § 1
Considering that the applicants complaints under Article 6 (as declared admissible) largely coincided with their complaints under Article 8, the Court found that no separate issue arose under Article 6 § 1.
The Court s judgments are accessible on its Internet site (http://www.echr.coe.int).
Registry of the European Court of Human Rights
Contacts: Roderick Liddell (telephone: +00 33 (0)3 88 41 24 92)
Emma Hellyer (telephone: +00 33 (0)3 90 21 42 15)
Stéphanie Klein (telephone: +00 33 (0)3 88 41 21 54)
Fax: +00 33 (0)3 88 41 27 91
European Court of Human Rights was set up in
[fn1] Under Article 43 of the European Convention on Human Rights, within three months from the date of a Chamber judgment, any party to the case may, in exceptional cases, request that the case be referred to the 17-member Grand Chamber of the Court. In that event, a panel of five judges considers whether the case raises a serious question affecting the interpretation or application of the Convention or its Protocols, or a serious issue of general importance, in which case the Grand Chamber will deliver a final judgment. If no such question or issue arises, the panel will reject the request, at which point the judgment becomes final. Otherwise Chamber judgments become final on the expiry of the three-month period or earlier if the parties declare that they do not intend to make a request to refer.
[fn2]A psychiatric condition in which a parent of a young child, nearly always the mother, seeks superfluous medical assistance for her child. The parent may invent a disease or even cause the symptoms. In certain cases, for example if the child’s breathing is interfered with, the child’s life may be in danger.