Constitutional Court chips away at institutions

Joint information bulletin

28 March 2011, St. Petersburg and Moscow (Russia), Budapest (Hungary) and Stockholm (Sweden).

The Russian Constitutional Court has ruled that the State cannot institutionalise a person with disabilities if there is no one who can become their guardian in the community. On 16 March 2011 the Russian Constitutional Court published decisions in two cases that were lodged in 2010 by the Independent Psychiatric Association of Russia (IPAR) in partnership with Mental Disability Advocacy Center (MDAC), in cooperation with Civil Rights Defenders (CRD).

The first applicant, Mr. Azamat Ibragimov is an adult with a psychosocial (mental health) disability. On the application of his family, a judge deprived him of legal capacity. None of his family members wanted to become his guardian, and on this basis alone, the guardianship authority of the local government sent him against his will to a social care institution, a provision that was allowed in law. Mr Ibragimov was not consulted on any of these decisions. There was no assessment of his needs, both in terms of ability to make autonomous or supported decisions, or his housing needs. The second applicant’s story was exactly the same.

The cases are illustrative of widespread social exclusion. There are no reliable data, but many hundreds of thousands of people in Russia are deprived of their legal capacity and placed under guardianship. They are all at risk of being removed from their own homes and ending up in a social care institution. According to the 2006 State Health Care Report 125,000 people live in such institutions, detained there for life, subject to neglect and abuse carried out with impunity, their access to justice denied, their voices unheard, their personhood removed.

The Constitutional Court of Russia held that placement in a social care institution against a person’s will constitutes deprivation of liberty and a restriction on the right to freedom of movement. In a new development of jurisprudence, the court said that a judicial review needs to be carried out before deciding to transfer someone to an institution, and that the review must be attended by the same fair trial guarantees as involuntary hospitalisation. The interpretation of the Constitutional Court has direct application and will require a court order in every case of institutional placement of a person deprived of legal capacity. It requires the legislature to develop procedures for such cases.

The judgment is an important step in creating progressive jurisprudence in the Russian context. It does not create a perfect system but it is an advance from the current system. The judgment opens up the possibility for someone to access justice where previously nothing was available. It gives people with disabilities and their attorneys the opportunity to argue for community alternatives to institutional placements. It is a milestone towards, but falls far short of, providing a legal right to live independently and be included in the community with choices equal to others. This right is required by Article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which Russia has signed but not yet ratified.

MDAC, IPAR and Civil Rights Defenders call on the Russian government to develop a plan to effectively implement the entirety of the CRPD. This includes legislating a right to independent living, a moratorium on placing people in institutions, a planned closure of these institutions, and a development of a range of community-based services for people with psychosocial disabilities and people with intellectual disabilities.


Lycette Nelson, MDAC Litigation Director (Budapest), +36 1 413 2730 or Dmitri Bartenev, Attorney (St. Petersburg), tel +7 905 2228915.

Lyubov Vinogradova, Executive Director, IPAR (Moscow),, +7 495 6250620

Categories: Statements.
Tags: Mental Disability Advocacy Centre and People with disabilities.
Regions: Russia.