Council of State, Administrative Section of Litigation
28 April 2016
Article 3: Best interests of the child
Article 9: Separation from parents
Other international provisions:
European Convention on Human Rights, Article 6: Right to a fair trial
European Convention on Human Rights, Article 8: Right to respect for private and family life
Law of 15 December 1980, Article 74/9, §3 (provides alien families with minor children the possibility of living in a personal dwelling pending removal, under conditions agreed to with the Immigration Office; the King is charged with determining the content of such agreement and the penalties for violating it)
Royal Decree of 17 September 2014 (sets out the content of the above-required agreement and the penalties for violating it, in accordance with Article 74/9, §3, of the Law of 15 December 1980)
Belgian Constitution, Article 33 (government powers)
Special Institutional Reform Act of 8 August 1980, Articles 70 and 73 (government powers)
Belgian Constitution, Article 22 (respect for private and family life)
Belgian Constitution, Article 22bis (children’s rights of health and wellbeing)
Belgian Constitution, Articles 10 and 11 (equality and non-discrimination)
Belgian Constitution, Article 191 (equal legal protection for foreigners)
Under the Belgian law of 15 December 1980, families with minor children awaiting determination of their immigration status have the possibility of residing in a “personal dwelling” during this period. However, conditions can be imposed on the family to ensure that they do not abscond. The King is empowered to determine the contents of these agreements as well as any sanctions that may be imposed if they are breached. In 2014, a Royal Decree was passed to set standard terms for these agreements. This Royal Decree was the subject of this complaint.
Issue and resolution:
The rights of children held in detention. The court annulled the provisions of the Royal Decree that fixed the terms of the mandatory agreements that must be completed with the Immigration Office.
The court rejected the first argument put forward that the contested decree was unconstitutional. The argument states that the executive branch overstepped its powers by acting when parliament was not in session. The court, however, clarified that ‘current affairs’ includes matters that had been in the pipeline prior to the dissolution of parliament, representing a continuation of previous processes.
The court also rejected a second argument that the decree violated the Constitution and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) for failing to sufficiently define “family” to include individuals exercising parental authority over a child but who are neither the biologically or legally adoptive parents of the child. The court disagreed, holding that the decree did not exclude non-relatives who have assumed the role of a parent from the law’s protection.
The court upheld the third argument that the schedule of sanctions provided by the decree was impermissible. According to the court, the sanctions provided by the Law of 15 December 1980, Article 74/9, §3, were intended to be administrative steps to ensure an eventual removal of the family, not as a means to punish the family. Specifically, the sanction of temporarily placing family members in separate facilities was deemed a violation of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR) as this causes a disproportionate interference with the exercise of the right to family life. Likewise, the sanction of moving the entire family to a confined facility without satisfying the requirement that it be adapted to their needs violates the judgment of the Constitutional Court, No. 166/2013 of 19 December 2013, setting out the conditions for the detention of families and minors.
Finally, the court rejected the argument that the schedule of sanctions provided by the contested decree breaches Article 6 ECHR and Article 3 CRC by punishing the collective behaviour of a family, violating the principle that sanctions should be personal and should not punish a person for another’s, or for collective, behaviour. The court held that the sanctions at issue were in fact “administrative measures” subject to judicial review.
Excerpt citing CRC and other relevant human rights
Les requérantes soulèvent un deuxième moyen pris « de la violation des articles 22 et 22bis de la Constitution, de l’ Article 3 de la Convention internationale relative aux droits de l’enfant, combiné avec l’ Article 9, §§ 1 er et 2, de la même convention, du principe général de droit de la sauvegarde de l’intérêt supérieur de l’enfant, des articles 10, 11 et 191 de la Constitution et du principe général d’égalité et de non-discrimination. (page6) Elles précisent que l’ Article 3 de la Convention internationale relative aux droits de l’enfant impose que, dans toutes les décisions qui concernent les enfants, l’intérêt supérieur de ceux-ci soit une considération primordiale. (page 7) Les requérantes soulèvent un troisième moyen pris « de la violation du principe général de personnalité des sanctions, du principe général du droit de défense et du principe général selon lequel nul ne peut être juge et partie dans la même cause, ainsi XI – 20.421 – 17/23 que de la violation de l’ Article 6 de la Convention européenne des droits de l’homme, de l’ Article 3 de la Convention internationale relative aux droits de l’enfant et du principe général du droit de la sauvegarde de l’intérêt supérieur de l’enfant. (page 18) Elles expliquent les obligations des États en ce qui concerne le respect de l’ Article 3 de la Convention internationale relative aux droits de l’enfant ou le principe général du droit de la sauvegarde de l’intérêt supérieur de l’enfant. Elles estiment que l’arrêté royal attaqué n’offre aucune des garanties prescrites par ces dispositions. (page 18)
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child devoted significant attention to the issue of child immigration detention, finding the detention of children based on their or their parents’ migration status is never in the best interests of the child, therefore constituting a clear child rights violation. Having concluded that immigration detention for children, however brief, is under no circumstances appropriate, the Committee called upon states to put an end to this practice “expeditiously and completely”, imploring them to implement alternatives to detention (ATD). The benefit of ATD is that they holistically account for the best interests of the child, allowing children to remain with family members and/or guardians in non-custodial, community-based contexts while their immigration status is being resolved.
Link to full judgement:
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.