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Constitutionality of Article 139 of the Family Code of Russian Federation and Article 47 of the Federal Law “On the Acts of Civil Status” on account of complaint lodged by the citizens G. F. Grubich and T. G. Guschina

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Court/Judicial body: 
Constitutional Court of Russian Federation

16 June 2015

CRC Provisions: 
Article 3: Best interests of the child
Article 4: Implementation of rights
Article 7: Name and nationality
Article 8: Preservation of identity
Article 27: Standard of living

Other international provisions:
European Convention on Human Rights, Article 10: Freedom of expression
UN Declaration of the Rights of the Child 1959
UN Declaration on Social and Legal Principles relating to the Protection and Welfare of Children, with Special Reference to Foster Placement and Adoption Nationally and Internationally

Domestic provisions:
Constitution of Russian Federation, Article 29(4): the right to freely seek information;
Constitution of Russian Federation, Article 24: collection, keeping, use and dissemination of information about private life of the person
Family Code of Russian Federation, Article 139: secrecy of adoption
Federal Law “On the acts of civil status”, Article 47: secrecy of adoption
Federal Law “On information, information technologies and data protection”, Articles 3(7) and 9(8): secrecy of adoption
Federal Law “On archive-keeping”, Articles 24 and 25: access to the archive documents, limitations on the access

Case summary

The two complainants were denied access to documents relating to the birth and adoption of the deceased G.I. Grubich (spouse and father of the complainants accordingly). A lawsuit seeking access to the documents was dismissed by the courts of the first and appellate instance on the grounds of protection of the secrecy of adoption. The law allowed such information to be disclosed only with the consent of the adoptive parents, however, G.I. Grubich’s adoptive parents were deceased. In the present case, the complainants lodged a constitutional challenge, arguing that the relevant legal provisions violate their constitutional right to freely seek and receive information in that they impose an unconditional and indefinite limitation that has the effect of barring them from obtaining the information.

Issue and resolution:
Protection of the secrecy of adoption and the right of the descendants to access the information about their deceased ancestors following the death of the adoptive parents. The Court ruled that although the challenged legal norms prohibiting the disclosure of information about the adoption are fully in line with the constitutional guarantees of the protection of the interests of the family members and respect of their family and private life, the lower courts may allow the disclosure of such information in circumstances where, after the death of the adopted person and their adoptive parents, it is required to observe the right of a person to know their origins.

Court reasoning:
The Court observed that the principle of secrecy of adoption is aimed at establishing proper family and parental relationships between the adoptive parents and the child by guaranteeing the stability of the adoption and protecting the rights and interests of all family members. Considering that disclosure of the adoption information can inflict moral suffering on the child, affect their psychological state or hinder the creation of normal family surrounding and child’s upbringing, it can be done only at the discretion of the adoptive parents. However, the proper balance of private and public interests protection allows for different levels of guarantees of data protection and different levels of limitations to access to information. In evaluating these limitations, the principle of maximum protection of the family and its members must be observed.

The Court referred to the CRC provisions guaranteeing the right of the child to know their parents and the right to preserve their identity, as well as to the right to freedom of information in the European Convention Human Rights and relevant case law of the European Court of Human Rights in order to strike a balance between the right to access to information and protection of family and personal life. After reviewing relevant normative provisions and case law, the Court concluded that although the information relating to the adoption is of confidential character, it could be essential for revealing the genetic history of a family and biological ties, comprising an important part of personal identity. Therefore, providing a legal possibility for the descendants of a deceased adopted person to access such information, aimed at reaching the balance of constitutional values, makes it possible to introduce certainty in continuous family relationships of the adopted person and their family members, as well as to evaluate the reasonability of further keeping adoption a secret.

Excerpt citing CRC and other relevant human rights
As translated by CRIN:

“The preferable form of placement of children left without parental care is adoption, which…is allowed in the interest of underage children with their consent (where applicable)…and obligatory consideration of child’s ethnic origin, religion, culture, native language, and the possibility for continuity in child’s upbringing and education, as well as physical, psychological, moral and spiritual development.

This approach is in line with the requirements of the international legal documents. For example, UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, recognising that the child, for the full and harmonious development of his or her personality, should grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding, obliges the States that ratified the Convention to take all appropriate legislative and administrative measures to ensure child’s protection and to recognise the right of the child to a standard of living adequate for the child’s physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development.”

“According to the UN Declaration of the Rights of the Child (Resolution 13/86(IV) of 20 November 1959) and UN Declaration on Social and Legal Principles relating to the Protection and Welfare of Children, with Special Reference to Foster Placement and Adoption Nationally and Internationally (Resolution 41/85 of 3 December 1986), a child, due to his/her physical and mental immaturity, requires special protection and care, including the best possible legal protection, while observing the best interests of the child and his/her need of love and the right for continuous care must be of utmost importance when considering questions of placing the child with the persons that are not his biological parents”.

“European Convention on Human Rights refers to the right to information within the framework of the freedom of expression: according to the art. 10 everyone has the right to freedom of expression, which includes the right to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. Convention on the Rights of the Child guarantees the right of the child to know, as far as possible, his/her parents (art. 7(1)), while his/her right to the family ties is also recognised, alongside citizenship and name, as an element of the right to preserve his/her identity (art. 8(1)). Freedom of information, understood in the context of these provisions, includes certain rights and freedoms relating to the personal self-fulfilment…”

“The ECtHR in its practice in cases relating to the disclosure of information on adoption presumes that national legislation can use different approaches on the matters of confidentiality of official information on child’s origins, personality of the mother and the degree of confidentiality of the official documents…”

“Protection of the secrecy of adoption can sometimes lose its legal meaning, because the realisation of the descendants of the adopted person, in case of his death and the death of his/her adoptive parents, of the right to know the origins of the adopted person does not imply, according to the art. 8 ECHR, the obligation to establish legal relationship with biological parents or other biological relatives of the adopted after his/her death, which is also true in case of Russian national civil and family law. This conclusion is reflected in the ECtHR case law…”

In Russian language:
“…наиболее предпочтительной формой устройства детей, оставшихся без попечения родителей, является усыновление (удочерение), которое…допускается в отношении несовершеннолетних детей и только в их интересах…с учетом при устройстве ребенка его этническое происхождение, принадлежность к определенной религии и культуре, родной язык, возможность обеспечения преемственности в его воспитании и образовании, а также полноценного физического, психического, духовного и нравственного развития.

Такой подход соотносится с требованиями международно-правовых актов. Так, Конвенция о правах ребенка (одобрена Генеральной Ассамблеей ООН 20 ноября 1989 года), признавая, что ребенку для полного и гармоничного развития его личности необходимо расти в семейном окружении, в атмосфере счастья, любви и понимания, обязывает подписавшие Конвенцию государства обеспечивать детям необходимые для их благополучия защиту и заботу, принимать все надлежащие законодательные, административные и другие меры для осуществления прав, признанных в Конвенции, признавать право каждого ребенка на уровень жизни, необходимый для его физического, умственного, духовного, нравственного и социального развития (преамбула, пункт 2 статьи 3, статья 4 и пункт 1 статьи 27)”.

“Согласно принятым Генеральной Ассамблеей ООН Декларации прав ребенка (Резолюция 1386 (XIV) от 20 ноября 1959 года) и Декларации о социальных и правовых принципах, касающихся защиты и благополучия детей, особенно при передаче детей на воспитание и их усыновлении на национальном и международном уровнях (Резолюция 41/95 от 3 декабря 1986 года), ребенок ввиду его физической и умственной незрелости нуждается в специальной охране и заботе, включая надлежащую правовую защиту, а наилучшее обеспечение интересов ребенка и его потребность в любви и право на обеспеченность и постоянную заботу должны являться главным соображением при рассмотрении всех вопросов, связанных с передачей ребенка для заботы о нем не его собственными родителями.”

“Конвенция о защите прав человека и основных свобод рассматривает право на информацию в рамках свободы выражения мнения: согласно ее статье 10 каждый имеет право свободно выражать свое мнение, которое включает свободу придерживаться своего мнения и свободу получать и распространять информацию и идеи без какого-либо вмешательства со стороны публичных властей и независимо от государственных границ. В Конвенции ООН о правах ребенка 1989 года закреплено право ребенка знать, насколько это возможно, своих родителей (пункт 1 статьи 7), а его право на семейные связи признается, наряду с гражданством и именем, в качестве элемента права на сохранение своей индивидуальности (пункт 1 статьи 8). Свобода информации, понимаемая в контексте приведенных положений, охватывает ряд прав и свобод, связанных с самореализацией человека…”

“Европейский Суд по правам человека в правоприменительной практике по делам, связанным с вопросами раскрытия информации об усыновлении (доступа к данного рода информации), исходит из того, что в национальном законодательстве по вопросам о сохранении в секрете официальной информации о происхождении ребенка, о личности матери при рождении ребенка и степени конфиденциальности соответствующих документов могут встречаться различные подходы…”

“Обеспечение тайны усыновления зачастую утрачивает свое правовое значение, поскольку реализация потомками усыновленного в случае его смерти и смерти усыновителей права знать происхождение усыновленного не предполагает, в силу статьи 8 Конвенции о защите прав человека и основных свобод, обязательности установления правовых отношений с биологическими родителями и иными биологическими родственниками усыновленного после его смерти, равно как не предусмотрена такая возможность и гражданским и семейным законодательством Российской Федерации. Данный вывод находит свое отражение в прецедентной практике Европейского Суда по правам человека…”

CRIN Comments: 
CRIN believes this decision is consistent with the CRC in so far as it enhances the right to obtain information concerning one’s origins of the descendants of adopted persons. Under Article 8 of the Convention, States must respect children’s right to an identity and provide appropriate assistance and protection to children who are deprived of elements of their identity with a view to speedily re-establish the same. Information concerning adoption should not be withheld in cases such as the present where the need to ensure the stability of the adoption through secrecy is no longer relevant.

Постановление КС РФ от 16 июня 2015 года № 15-П

Link to Full Judgment:

This case summary is provided by the Child Rights International Network for educational and informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice.