The eight applicants were women of Roma ethnicity, who suspected that they had been sterilized during caesarian section deliveries at two different hospitals in Slovakia. When the applicants’ requests to obtain copies of their medical records from the hospitals were denied, they filed actions against the hospitals in domestic courts.
The domestic courts ordered the hospitals to allow the applicants access to their medical records, and allow handwritten excerpts to be taken, but they rejected the applicants’ requests to make photocopies of their records. The applicants appealed this ruling but it was upheld on appeal.
Due to the passage of new legislation, in 2004 seven of the applicants’ legal representatives were permitted to make photocopies of the medical records, with the exception of one of the applicants, who was informed that her records had been lost.
The applicants filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights, claiming that their rights under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (right to respect for their private and family life) had been violated by the hospitals’ refusals to allow the photocopying of their medical records. The applicants claimed that handwritten excerpts were not sufficient, as issues such as consent and signatures could not be reproduced. The applicants argued under Article 6, that denying them photocopies of their medical records had violated their right to access a court, because without such evidence, they could effectively pursue civil liability. The applicants also claimed that no effective remedy was available to them under Article 13.
The European Court of Human Rights held that access to information pertaining to an individual’s health and reproductive status was relevant to an individual’s private and family life under Article 8. The Court found that a refusal to provide access to such information must be supported by compelling reasons. In this case, the Court did not accept the State’s argument that preventing photocopying of the records was required to protect the information from abuse. The Court therefore found that the State had violated the applicants’ right to respect for their private and family life under Article 8 of the Convention. The Court also found a violation of the applicants’ right of access to a court under Article 6.