A Latvian man has been awarded €3000 in compensation by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) after the country’s government failed to resolve a paternity dispute after seven years.
In Veiss v Latvia, the man had lived with a woman after she gave birth to their son. He provided financial support, paying the family’s utility bills and rent. However, the mother would not allow the man to be registered on the child’s birth certificate. When he asked for his paternity to be established through the courts, the woman prevented him from seeing the child. He applied for a copy of the child’s birth certificate and found another man, unknown to him, listed as the father.
The man then applied for a paternity test, seeking to have the child’s birth certificate changed if it was proved that the was the father. However, the courts ruled that he did not have a legal role in the matter, in contrast to the listed father, who had voluntarily admitted paternity of the child. The father appealed and a paternity test was ordered, but considerable delays followed. The child was not made available for the testing and the mother and child disappeared from their address.
Eventually, the paternity test did take place and this showed that the man was indeed the child’s father and not the third party who had been listed on the birth certificate. However, the Latvian courts still refused to amend the birth certificate, saying they did not have the power to change a voluntary declaration of paternity. This ruling was upheld by a higher court, which also refused to consider the father’s claim that the considerable delays meant his rights under Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights had been infringed. Article 6 governs the right to a fair trial or public hearing within a reasonable time frame.
The case proceeded to the Latvian Supreme Court. They ruled that the lower courts had been wrong to deny the man, as the biological father of the child, his right to contest the birth certificate declaration, but the Court still concluded that it was not in the interests of the child or mother to make the change. The case was adjourned while the father was in the process of preparing an appeal.
He therefore appealed to the ECHR, complaining that the case had been ongoing for seven whole years by that point. The ECHR acknowledged the complexity of the case but ruled that the father had not contributed to the delays. The man’s rights under Article 6 had been violated, they concluded He was awarded €1,000 for damages and €2,000 for costs and expenses.