Snježana (55) is a person with psychosocial disability in Zagreb, and was hospitalized following a mental health crisis. Her legal capacity was restricted under Croatian law and Snježana began the slippery decline to ‘civil death.’ Snježana contacted the SHINE – the Croatian PERSON partner – with a request to provide support to restore her legal capacity. They did. And this is how.
After her hospitalisation, without asking her, the hospital staff sent her medical records to the Croatian Centre for Social Welfare who instituted proceeding to entirely divest Snježana of her legal capacity. Although Snježana lived her whole life by herself in her own apartment and was socially engaged most of the time, following her hospitalisation about 20 times, the Centre for Social Welfare concluded that she was not able to take care for herself and that it was in her best interest to be placed in guardianship. At first, despite her wishes to appoint her son as a guardian ad litem, the Centre for Social Welfare appointed its employee as a guardian ad litem to represent Snježana in the proceedig before the Court.
The SHINE first made a complaint to the People’s Ombudsman claiming that Snježana has right to a fair procedure under the Article 6 of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) which cannot be obtained if guardian ad litem represents the body who instituted the proceeding. Consequently, the People’s Ombudsman concluded that such appointment would violate Snježana’s right to fair proceeding and warned the respondent Centre for Social Welfare. After that, the Centre for Social Welfare appointed Snježana’s son as a guardian ad litem for the purpose of judicial proceeding.
During the proceedings the expert witness – a psychiatrist appointed by the Court – examined Snježana and asked her whether she wishes to be deprived of legal capacity. During the examination, the expert witness persuaded Snježana that this was in her best interest and good for her, which she believed at the time since she had no legal knowledge about meaning of legal capacity and was also under the fear that she would lose her pension and social benefits if she does not agree with the proceeding for deprivation of legal capacity. The expert witness proposed Snježana should be partially deprived of her legal capacity. However, after receiving proper legal assistance, Snježana did understand that deprivation of legal capacity would mean that she would not be able to run her life as she was doing that before, so she asked the SHINE to provide her additional help and challenge the opinion of the expert witness. The SHINE assisted Snježana to challenge the expert witness’ opinion on the basis that (1) the psychiatrist providing opinion on the health matters concerning the person in the proceeding is not allowed to provide legal advice and is not allowed to persuade person what is and what is not in her ‘best interest’ and (2) that the opinion was ill founded because it was only based on what Snježana said during examination but not taking into account all medical records which show that she was functioning during the entire period of mental illness for over 18 years. As a result, the Court decided to ask the expert witness to further explain its opinion. After being pushed, the expert witness found that Snježana’s mental health condition improved, that she did not seek hospital treatment in the meantime and that she was fully functional and, therefore, concluded there is no reason to deprive Snježana of her legal capacity.
On February 25, 2015 the Zagreb Municipal Court rejected the proposal of the Centre for Social Welfare to deprive Snježana of her legal capacity. It should be noted that the Court itself heard Snježana and did not ground its opinion solely on the basis of the expert witness opinion. This shows how real hearing at the court where persons concerned are present and can be heard by the judge can be important for proper judgments. Snježana is now living with her son free of the fear that she won’t be taken as a person in Croatian society.
Information about SHINE is available at its website.
This document has been produced with the financial assistance of the European Union. The contents of this document are the sole responsibility of PERSON (Partnership to Ensure Reforms of Supports in Other Nations) and can under no circumstances be regarded as reflecting the position of the European Union.