ECHR rules North Macedonia violated the right to private and family life over secrecy rule on adoptions News
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ECHR rules North Macedonia violated the right to private and family life over secrecy rule on adoptions

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled North Macedonia violated Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights on Tuesday by refusing access to sensitive adoption records based exclusively on national legislation. The Strasbourg-based court determined that the North Macedonian authorities had failed to evaluate the conflicting interests at stake and ordered compensation for non-pecuniary damages and the costs incurred by the applicant.

The case Mitrevska v North Macedonia pertains to a North Macedonian national who was adopted as a child. In 2017, the applicant sought information about her biological family, submitting two requests to the Skopje social services and the Adoption Commission of the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy. She emphasized the importance of accessing her adoption records, with particular emphasis on her biological family’s medical history, due to her diagnosis of depressive anxiety disorder and speech issues. The applicant argued that obtaining this information was vital for a comprehensive understanding of her personal history and early childhood.

The requests made by the applicant to the Skopje social services and the Adoption Commission were both declined. The authorities justified their refusal by referencing section 123-a of the Family Act, which classifies completed adoptions as official secrets and automatically treats all adoption-related information as confidential, not entailing provisions for non-identifying information or exceptions on medical grounds. The applicant challenged these decisions in administrative courts, but in 2020 her appeals were dismissed, relying on the same legal provision.

In her case before the ECHR, the applicant therefore alleged a violation of Article 8 which protects the right to private and family life and asserted that the relevant authorities did not properly assess or balance the competing interests involved.

In its ruling, the ECHR acknowledged the sensitive and ethical dimensions of an adoptee’s right to information about their biological origins, necessitating a balance between individual privacy and public interest. The court assessed the applicant’s fundamental right to learn about her parentage which is a critical component of her private life, and her right to access medical information. This was balanced against the biological mothers’ expectation that details about their pregnancy, birth and associated information would remain confidential. This confirmed that both Skopje social services and the Adoption Commission failed to appropriately balance these interests, specifically by failing to verify whether the biological parents intended  for the information to remain confidential. Both decisions, based on section 123-a of the Family Law Act, consequently constituted a violation of Article 8 of the convention.

Pursuant to Article 41 of the convention, the applicant is entitled to just satisfaction for the infringement of her rights. Accordingly, North Macedonia must compensate the applicant with €4,500 ($ 4,872) in non-pecuniary damages and reimburse €1,440 ($ 1559) for costs and expenses incurred in the legal proceedings.