HUMAN RIGHTS/PATERNITY: Mizzi v Malta (Application no 26111/02)

12 JAN 2006

(European Court of Human Rights; 12 January 2006) [2006] 1 FLR 1048

The husband sought to dispute the paternity of a child born after he had separated from his wife. Although it had eventually been established that the husband was not the father of the child, under Maltese law at the time, the husband's assumed paternity could not be legally challenged. Many years later, an amendment to the Maltese legislation permitted a spouse to challenge his assumed paternity, but only within certain time limits. The husband was significantly outside those time limits, and remained unable to challenge the ruling of paternity. Initially, the Maltese court found that this constituted a breach of the husband's Art 8 rights under the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms 1950, but this was overturned on appeal.

The European Court of Human Rights held there had been a breach of the husbands Art 6(1) right to access to the court, and of his Art 8 right to respect for his private and family life. The practical impossibility of the husband challenging paternity from the child's birth to the present day had impaired his right of access to the court. While time limits on challenges to paternity could be in the interests of children, such limits should not altogether prevent the use of the legal remedy in question.

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