1. The case originated in an application (no. 22208/17) against Ukraine lodged with the Court under Article 34 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms ("the Convention") by a Ukrainian national, Mr Mykola Petrovych Shvets ("the applicant"), on 14 March 2017.
2. The applicant was represented by Ms I. Koval, a lawyer practising in Kyiv. The Ukrainian Government ("the Government") were represented by their Agent, Mr I. Lishchyna.
3. The applicant complained under Articles 6 and 8 of the Convention that the domestic authorities had failed to ensure his access to his granddaughter.
4. On 11 May 2017 notice of the application was given to the Government.
5. The Government objected to the examination of the application by a Committee, but provided no reasons. After having considered the Government’s objection, the Court rejects it.
THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE CASE
6. The applicant was born in 1946 and lives in Cherkasy.
7. The applicant is the paternal grandfather of V., who was born in 2011 and lived in Kyiv until her parents separated in late 2014. Following enquiries by hi m and V.’s father, t he y found out that V. and her mother (D.) had moved to Kherson (around 550 km from Kyiv). The applicant’s attempts to see V. in Kherson were unsuccessful.
Proceedings regarding contact rights
8. On 23 June 2015 the applicant applied to the Svyatoshynskyy District Court of Kyiv ("the first-instance court") seeking an order requiring D. to allow him access to his granddaughter V. and to immediately return her to Kyiv. The applicant also requested that the court arrange a schedule of regular meetings with his granddaughter in Kyiv.
9. On 18 April 2016 the first-instance court partly allowe
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d the application. It found that under domestic law (see paragraph 23 below) the applicant had been entitled to keep contacts with his granddaughter and participate in her upbringing and the child’s mother could not prevent him from exercising that right. Having examined the facts, the court ruled that the applicant should have contact with his granddaughter from 10 until 5 p.m. on the first and third Saturday of the month. The court specified that the meetings should take place at D.’s home and in her presence. It noted that in January 2016 the court which had been dealing with disputes between the parents regarding V.’s place of residence had determined that V. should live with her mother. There were therefore no grounds to order the return of the child to Kyiv where she had been living previously.
10. The applicant appealed, arguing, among other things, that even though a meetings schedule had been established, the court had failed to resolve the principal issue, which was the mother’s refusal to allow the applicant access to the child. The applicant contended that the obligation of the child’s mother not to prevent him from communicating with the child had not been determined by the first-instance court.
11. On 8 June 2016 the Kyiv Court of Appeal noted that the first - instance court had properly addressed the scope of the case given that the applicant had amended and developed his claims during the proceedings. The court of appeal then amended the first-instance court’s decision and reasoned that the meetings between the applicant and the child should not take place in the presence of the child’s mother. The court considered that the applicant and D. did not have a good relationship and that D.’s presence during the meetings would negatively affect the applicant’s communication with the child. The court added that the applicant had developed a very close connection with his granddaughter. H e was well aware of her health problems and needs and could take care of her. T here were therefore no obstacles preventing him from communicating with the child alone. Following the appellate court’s ruling, the decision of 18 April 2016 (see paragraph 9 above), as amended, became binding.
12. The applicant appealed on points of law, arguing that the courts had failed to compel D. to allow him to have meetings with the child.
13. On 14 September 2016 the Higher Specialised Court for Civil and Criminal Matters dismissed the applicant’s appeal as unfounded, having concluded that the lower courts had correctly applied the law and provided appropriate reasoning for their decisions.
Further proceedings and developments
14. Between October and December 2016 the applicant complained to the police, arguing that D. had committed an offence by failing to comply with the court decision on the applicant’s contact rights. An investigation into those allegations was opened in December 2016.
15. On 12 April 2017 the State bailiffs refused to open enforcement proceedings in respect of the decision of 18 April 2016, noting that the law did not specify the manner in which it could be enforced.
16. On 21 April 2017 the applicant applied to the first-instance court to determine the manner in which the decision of 18 April 2016 could be enforced. The applicant requested that the court formally compel D. to hand over the child to the applicant on the days of the meetings as determined by the court.
17. On 16 June 2017 the first-instance court found that the decision of 18 April 2016 was binding but had not been complied with by D. It therefore ruled that D. had a duty to hand over the child to the applicant in accordance with the meeting schedule.
18. D. appealed against that ruling.
19. On 27 September 2017 the Kyiv Court of Appeal dismissed D.’s appeal as unfounded. The appellate court noted that D. had not complied with the court decision of 18 April 2016 and had prevented the applicant from seeing the child. Meanwhile, the bailiffs could not enforce the decision because the manner of enforcement had not been specified. I t had therefore been necessary to adopt an additional court decision and rul e that D. had a duty to hand over the child to the applicant in accordance with the meetings schedule.
20. D. appealed on points of law. On 23 October 2017 the Higher Specialised Court for Civil and Criminal Matters suspended, without providing specific reasons, the enforcement of the decision of 16 June 2017 pending consideration of D.’s appeal on points of law. The Court has not been informed about the outcome of these proceedings.
Dispute between the child’s parents regarding change of her place of residence
21. On 24 May 2018, following a claim lodged by V.’s father, the first-instance court decided that the child should live with her father (the applicant’s son) in Kyiv. The court ordered immediate enforcement of that decision.
22. On 30 May 2018 the State Bailiffs ensured the transfer of the child to her father. Since that time the applicant has had all the possibilities of taking part in the upbringing of the child.
RELEVANT DOMESTIC LAW
23. Article 257 1 of Family Code of 2002 provides that grandmother, grandfather, great-grandfather, great-grand mother have the right to communicate with their grandchildren, great-grandchildren and to participate in their upbringing. Article 257 2 of the Code provides that parents or other persons with whom the child lives should not interfere with the exercise by grandparents and great-grandparents of their rights in the education of grandchildren or great-grandchildren. T he grandparents and great-grandparents have the right to apply to the court with a claim to remove obstacles in exercising such rights.
24. The relevant provisions of domestic law on enforcement proceedings are summarised in the judgment in the case of Vyshnyakov v. Ukraine (no. 25612/12, 28, 24 July 2018).
ALLEGED VIOLATION OF ARTICLE 8 OF THE CONVENTION
25. The applicant complained under Articles 6 and 8 of the Convention that the domestic authorities had failed to ensure his access to his granddaughter.
26. The Court, which is master of the characterisation to be given in law to the facts of the case (see Radomilja and Others v. Croatia [GC], nos. 37685/10and 22768/12, 114 and 126, 20 March 2018), will examine the complaint from the standpoint of Article 8 of the Convention alone.
27. This provision reads as follows:
"1. Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.
2. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others."
28. The Government submitted that in the domestic proceedings the applicant was majorly preoccupied with the idea of returning the child to Kyiv and not about his access to the child. T he domestic courts had properly examined the applicant’s claims. I f the applicant had not been satisfied with the result, he could have applied to the domestic courts once again for protection of his contact rights, seeking removal of obstacles in having contact with the granddaughter. Moreover, the bailiffs were in a position to enforce the contact arrangements after the domestic courts had determined the manner in which the relevant decision had to be enforced. In view of the above, the Government considered that the applicant’s complaint should be declared inadmissible for non-exhaustion of domestic remedies and as manifestly ill - founded.
29. The applicant disagreed. He contended that he had taken all the necessary steps to exhaust domestic remedies in relation to his complaint.
30. The Court notes at the outset that there may be "family life" within the meaning of Article 8 of the Convention between grandparents and grandchildren where there are sufficiently close family ties between them (see, for example, Kruskic and others v. Croatia (dec.), no. 10140/13, 108, 25 November 2014, and T.S. and J.J. v. Norway (dec.), no. 15633/15, 23, 11 October 2016). In the present case, it was not disputed that such family ties existed between the applicant and his granddaughter. Notably, t he domestic court s found that the applicant had developed a very close connection with his granddaughter (see paragraph 11 above). The Court therefore accept s that the relationship between the m amounted to " family life " within the meaning of Article 8 (see, mutatis mutandis, Mitoviv. the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, no. 53565/13, 59, 16 April 2015). This provision is therefore applicable to the present case.
31. As regards the rule of exhaustion of domestic remedies, the applicant’s complaint refers to the alleged failure of the domestic authorities to ensure proper respect to his family life in the course of one set of court proceedings resulting in a binding judgment and its further enforcement. During those proceedings the domestic authorities were dealing with the question of whether or not obstacles had been caused to the applicant in getting access to his granddaughter. The refore, the possibility of opening a new set of proceedings, as suggested by the Government, is not relevant for the present case (see, mutatis mutandis, M.R. and D.R. v. Ukraine, no. 63551/13, 46 and 47, 22 May 2018). Accordingly, t he Government’s objection is dismissed.
32. The Court further considers that this complaint is not manifestly ill - founded within the meaning of Article 35 3 (a) of the Convention. It notes that it is not inadmissible on any other grounds. It must therefore be declared admissible.
33. The applicant contended that the inactivity of the national courts and the bailiffs, as well as their formalistic approach and reluctance to analyse all the facts of the case, had resulted in violation of his right to maintain a normal relationship with his granddaughter.
34. The Government did not provide any comments on the merits.
35. The general principles concerning the State’s positive obligations under Article 8 of the Convention in the sphere of family law are described in Ribic v. Croatia (no. 27148/12, 92-9 5, 2 April 2015, with further references) and Vyshnyakov ( 34-37, cited above, with further references). These principles also apply to cases where contact and residence disputes concerning children arise between parents and/or other members of the children’s family (see Mitovi, cited above, 55; and N.Ts. and Others v. Georgia, no. 71776/12, 70 in fine, 2 February 2016). However, the Court reiterates that the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren is different in nature and degree from the relationship between parent and child and thus by its very nature generally calls for a lesser degree of protection (see Mitovi, cited above, 58).
36. In the present case the applicant complained that he could not have access to his granddaughter owing to the conduct of D., the child’s mother, and that the State authorities had failed to take measures to protect his right to communicate with the child.
37. The Court notes that, in response to the applicant’s action against D., the domestic courts found that under the domestic law the applicant had a right of contact with his granddaughter. They determined in the main set of proceedings a schedule for the applicant’s meetings with his granddaughter, taking particular note of the fact that the applicant had developed a very close connection with his granddaughter (see paragraphs 9 and 11 above). While acknowledging the necessity of imposing a meetings schedule, t he courts did not formally impose any duty on D. in that context, notably the courts did not oblige D. to respect the meetings schedule. However, this technicality prevented subsequently the bailiffs from interfering in any manner (see paragraph 15 above). The applicant had therefore to institute the auxiliary proceedings in which the courts specific ally compelled D. to hand over the child to the applicant on the relevant dates. The courts therefore imposed in a separate set of proceedings an obvious duty which indispensably followed from the fact that a meetings schedule had been established. Only t h at additional ruling - as suggested by the domestic courts (see paragraph 19 above) - eventually made enforcement of the contact arrangements by the bailiffs possible. However, even that court decision could not be enforced given that the higher court suspended the enforcement proceedings (see paragraph 20 above). With that suspension, which was not supported by any specific reasons, the applicant did not have real possibilities of compulsory enforcement of his contact arrangements.
38. Furthermore, even if the enforcement proceedings had been pursued, it is doubtful that they would remedy the applicant’s rights. In this regard the Court refers to its earlier findings in Ukrainian cases that enforcement proceedings in childcare cases disclose structural and systemic deficiencies (see Vyshnyakov, cited above, 46, and, mutatis mutandis, M.R. and D.R. v. Ukraine, no. 63551/13, 66, 22 May 2018).
39. The Court further notes that the applicant eventually obtained access to his granddaughter in May 2018 only because his son (the child’s father) succ e eded in a separate dispute with D. regarding change of the child’s place of residence (see par a graph s 21 and 22 above). However, by that time the applicant’s attempts to ensure and enforce his right of contact with the child had almost reached a three-year period. The Court notes that the applicant might have partly contributed to the overall length of the proceedings, nevertheless it considers that in the circumstances of the present case the domestic authorities failed to show requisite diligence in treating the applicant’s case (see, mutatis mutandis, Mitovi, cited above, 63 - 65, and Improta v. Italy, no. 66396/14, 53, 4 May 2017).
40. The foregoing considerations are sufficient for the Court to find that there has been a violation of Article 8 of the Convention.
APPLICATION OF ARTICLE 41 OF THE CONVENTION
41. Article 41 of the Convention provides:
"If the Court finds that there has been a violation of the Convention or the Protocols thereto, and if the internal law of the High Contracting Party concerned allows only partial reparation to be made, the Court shall, if necessary, afford just satisfaction to the injured party."
42. The applicant claimed 10,000 euros (EUR) in respect of non-pecuniary damage.
43. The Government submitted that the claim was unsubstantiated.
44. The Court considers that the applicant must have suffered anguish and distress on account of the violation found in the present case. Ruling on an equitable basis, the Court awards the applicant EUR 3,600 in respect of non-pecuniary damage.
Costs and expenses
45. The applicant did not submit any claims under this heading. The Court is therefore not called to make any award under costs and expenses.
46. The Court considers it appropriate that the default interest rate should be based on the marginal lending rate of the European Central Bank, to which should be added three percentage points.
FOR THESE REASONS, THE COURT, UNANIMOUSLY,
Declares the application admissible;
Holds that there has been a violation of Article 8 of the Convention;
(a) that the respondent State is to pay the applicant, within three months, EUR 3,600 (three thousand six hundred euros), plus any tax that may be chargeable, in respect of non-pecuniary damage, to be converted into the currency of the respondent State at the rate applicable at the date of settlement;
(b) that from the expiry of the above-mentioned three months until settlement simple interest shall be payable on the above amount at a rate equal to the marginal lending rate of the European Central Bank during the default period plus three percentage points;
Dismisses the remainder of the applicant’s claim for just satisfaction.
Done in English, and notified in writing on 23 July 2019, pursuant to Rule 77 2 and 3 of the Rules of Court