Validity Foundation - Mental Disability Advocacy Centre

Finland: Validity intervenes before the European Court of Human Rights to argue coercive psychiatric treatment violates the Convention 

By Validity 6th July 2022


At the beginning of June, Validity intervened in the case H.H. v. Finland in which the applicant complained of coercive treatment in a psychiatric hospital. She was medicated against her will but could not turn anywhere to complain and try to stop it. The courts refused to hear her case.  

Many people with psychosocial disabilities experience similar situations. Especially in psychiatric detention, doctors give them psychiatric medication against their will. This coercion is often justified by their “best interests” or perceived dangerousness. It is very difficult to find protection against this human rights violation because the national laws often factually allow it. Moreover, the police or the courts often refuse to hear the cases, claiming that the person does not have the right to bring the claim. If they do hear the case, medical opinions are typically the only or decisive evidence in the case and the person’s voice is undermined. The process is often complicated and inaccessible to persons with psychosocial disabilities.  

Pirkko Mahlamäki, a Finnish disability rights expert, explains that this is likely to remain a problem in Finland: “(t)he courts continue to solely rely on medical opinions when they decide similar cases. The courts rarely understand what it means to protect the rights of persons with disabilities in line with the United Nations disability convention.” The new legislation which planned to introduce an obligation of the courts to review cases of coercive psychiatric treatment, has been postponed until at least 2023. 

In our intervention, we explained that coercive psychiatric treatment violates the United Nations disability convention (UN CRPD). Some international institutions, such as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, also reiterate that it constitutes torture or ill-treatment. We urged the European Court of Human Rights to consider this international law when deciding this case. Coercive psychiatric treatment should always be considered as incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights on which the Court judges. We also reminded the Court that the possibility to effectively complain before courts is crucial in cases like this. We urge the Court to protect the right of persons with psychosocial disabilities to access justice equally with others. You can read our third-party intervention here.