(European Court of Human Rights; 10 January 2008)
Serious tensions had arisen from the parents' divorce proceedings. By consent the child was placed temporarily with a foster family to allow a court-appointed expert to prepare a report. The expert considered that the child was suffering from a serious emotional disorder caused by family tensions and needed to remain with the foster family for about 15 months to investigate the need for therapy. Later, as a result of the child's objections, and with a view to preventing either from negatively influencing the child, the parents' access to the child was suspended for a time. The child consistently expressed her desire to remain with the foster family, and her unwillingness to have even monthly contact with the mother. Almost 6 years after the original placement, the German courts finally confirmed that the child should remain with the foster family and receive psychotherapy. Parental authority was transferred to the father, who, unlike the mother, accepted that the child would remain with the foster family. The mother had eventually been granted monthly contact, with the child's agreement. The mother argued that she had not received a hearing within a reasonable time, contrary to Art 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and that her right to respect for family life under Art 8 had been breached.
The criteria for considering the reasonableness of the length of proceedings must be assessed in the light of the circumstances of the case and with reference to: the complexity of the case, the conduct of the applicant and the relevant authorities and what was at stake for the applicant in the dispute. In the light of the various factors in this case, in particular the need to try to improve the difficult relationship between the mother and the daughter, the length of the proceedings had been reasonable. The decisions taken by the German courts had been in the child's best interests, which overrode the mother's interest in maintaining parental authority; the decisions on access had sufficiently taken into account the mother's interests.