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A mother’s struggle to be with her children leads to better protection for family life

M.D. and Others v. Malta  | 2012

A mother’s struggle to be with her children leads to better protection for family life

Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life …

Extract from Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights

Background

M.D. is the mother of two children. When the children were aged between three and five, the presumed father, X., was convicted for repeatedly beating them. He was sentenced to two years in prison and the children were put into an institution.

The Maltese courts also found that, possibly because of X’s threats, M.D. had not reported his violent behavior and had behaved roughly. Therefore M.D. was also sentenced to one year in prison.

After the criminal case had started, M.D. took steps to make things right. Her relationship with X. ended, and she rebuilt her relationship with her children. Yet they were still in the care of an institution. M.D. wanted to have them back.

However, the relevant government minister refused her request. She wanted to go to court to prove that things had changed. However, because of her conviction M.D. had lost all parental rights over her children, forever. Under Maltese law, there was no way she could bring a claim and prove her case.

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights

The Strasbourg court ruled that M.D.’s right to access a court had been breached, because she had been denied the opportunity to argue that circumstances had changed and she should get her children back. Furthermore, her right to family life had been breached, because she had automatically and permanently lost her parental rights after her conviction – without any chance of getting them back.  

Follow-up

In July 2012 the children were re-united with their mother. Monthly home visits from social workers raised no concerns about their welfare.

In 2014 the law was changed. Parents in M.D.’s position can now ask a court to review decisions to separate children from their families. The Criminal Code was also changed, so that a conviction for certain offences no longer leads to an automatic loss of parental rights.