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(European Court of Human Rights, 28 January 2014)
The unmarried mother and father lived together following their child's birth. The father supported the family financially, paying rent and utility bills. The mother refused to permit the father's name to be registered and when the father proposed establishing paternity through the courts in 2007 the mother prevented the father from seeing the child. When he requested a copy of the birth registration he found another unknown man's details listed as the father's.
The father thereafter sought DNA testing and if paternity was established, for the birth register to be amended. The proceedings were discontinued on the basis that the father lacked standing where the registered father had voluntarily asserted paternity of the child. On appeal that decision was quashed and DNA testing was ordered. Lengthy delays ensued. The child was not produced for testing to be carried out and when police attended the mother and child's address they were not there.
Test results were finally obtained in October 2010 which demonstrated the father's paternity and found the registered father's paternity of the child impossible. The district court dismissed the father's application for an amendment to the birth register finding that civil law did not permit the father to contest a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity. The regional court upheld that decision and declined to respond to the father's claim that his Art 6 European Convention rights had been infringed due to the excessive delay in proceedings.
On appeal to the Senate of the Supreme Court it was found that the lower courts had erred in denying a biological father the right to contest a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity. However, in balancing the rights of the mother and child against those of the father, the judgment of the appeal court was upheld. The father was in the process of appealing but proceedings had been adjourned. He applied to the European Court of Human Rights claiming a violation of Art 6 of the European Convention due to domestic proceedings being ongoing for 7 years.
The ECHR accepted the Latvian Government's claim that the proceedings were legally complex but dismissed the claim that the father had contributed to the delay. Taking into account the overall length of proceedings and the finding that the father had not caused any delay himself, the father's Art 6 right to a hearing within a reasonable time had been violated.
Given that the father was seeking to reopen domestic proceedings to establish legal paternity his claim that his Art 8 right to respect for private and family life had been infringed was premature and had to be rejected. The father was awarded €1,000 in respect of non-pecuniary damage and €2,000 in respect of costs and expenses.
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