Decision of the Russian Constitutional Court 16 June 2015 N 15-П (the secret of adoption)

25.01.2021

Decision of the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation 16 June 2015 N 15-П “As to the constitutionality of Article 139 of the Russian Family Code  аnd Article 47 of the Federal Law “Acts of Civil Status” (the secret of adoption)” (translated from Russian)

The reason for the constitutional review of the case was the complaint of two Russian citizens G. (mother and daughter).  They lodged an action at the Khamovnichesky District Court of the city of Moscow seeking access to archival documents relating to the facts of the adoption  of the citizen G. (the husband and the father of the applicants respectively). As it became known to the applicants,he had been adopted by Russian (USSR at the time) citizens after his arrival as a minor child from Spain. The applicants’ action was denied on 10 August 2010. The judicial board for civil cases of the Moscow City Court upheld the judgment on 20 November 2011. The courts, referring to the contested provisions, proceeded from the fact that the secret of adoption is not subject to disclosure and is protected by law.

The complaint was dismissed in part relating to the applicant who is the widow of the deceased person, and accepted in part relating to the applicant who is his daughter.

Contested Provisions

According to Article 139 of the Russian Family Code, the secret of adoption of a child is protected by law. That  is, the judges who delivered the decision on adoption, or the officials who made its civil status registration, as well as persons otherwise aware of the adoption, are required to maintain the confidentiality of the adoption of the child.

Article 47 of the Federal Law of 15 November 1997 No. 143-ФЗ “Acts of Civil Status” also provides that the secret of adoption is protected by law (Para 1). It specifies in this regard that civil status officials are prohibited from disclosing information about the adoption or from issuing documents showing that the adoptive parents are not biological parents of the adopted person (Para 2).

Thus, the subject of constitutional review is Article 139 of the Russian Family Code and Article 47 of the Federal Law “Acts of Civil Status” which lay down the principles of the secret of adoption.

The  Constitutional Provisions

The Constitution of the Russian Federation guarantees the right to freely seek, receive, transmit, produce, and disseminate information by any legal means (Article 29, Part 4). On the other hand, it secures the right to privacy, personal and family secrets (Article 23, part 1) and does not allow the collection, storage, use, and dissemination of information about a person’s private life without his/her consent (Article 24, part 1).

Article 17 (Part 3) and Article 55 (Part 3) of the Constitution of the Russian Federation lay down that the restriction of rights, is possible only on the basis of federal legislation. At the same time, the possibility of establishing a special legal regime  restricting free access to certain kind of information by citizens, is suggested (Decision of the Constitutional court of the Russian Federation dated the 18th of February 2000 № 3-П).

Legal Provisions on the Secret of Adoption

In  addition to the contested provisions, an access to adoption information is also restricted by:

  • Federal Law of the 27th of  July 2006 No. 149-ФЗ “Information, Information Technologies and the Protection of Information” (Article 3 (7) and Article 9 (8)),
  • Decree of the President of the Russian Federation of the 6th of March 1997 No. 188 which approved the List of Confidential Information,
  • Federal Law of the 22nd of October 2004 No. 125-ФЗ “On Archival Activity in the Russian Federation”

According to the Federal Law  No. 125-ФЗ  restricted access to information about the citizen’s personal and family secrets, his/her private life, as well as information that creates a threat to his/her security, is set for a period of 75 years  (Article 25).

Besides, the legislator provided for measures aimed at ensuring the secrecy of adoption in various fields of law – family law, civil law, civil procedure law, labour law, social security law, and criminal law.

Situations When Adoption is Not a Secret

However, the secret of adoption is not a prerequisite for any adoption. Although most often the adoptive parents,  strive to ensure that no one, most of all the adopted child, knows that they are not his/her biological parents; in some situations, they do not. Some adoptive parents may consider it appropriate not to hide from the child that he/she was adopted. There are situations, if a child is mature enough, that he/she remembers his/her blood parents, and adoption is not a secret for him at all. Meanwhile, this does not mean that this fact can be brought to the attention of other persons without the consent of the adoptive parents.

For a minor child, the legislator connects secrecy of adoption solely with the will of the adoptive parents, as specifically mentioned in Article 139 (2) of the Russian Family Code and Article 47 (2) of the Federal Law “Acts of Civil Status.” Accordingly, judges, official employees, and civil status registrars who have disclosed the secret of adoption of the child are held criminally liable according to Article 155 of the Russian Criminal Code. Moreover, the adoptive parents may claim compensation for non-pecuniary damages according to Article 151 of the Russian Civil Code.

Thus, the legislator – proceeding from the idea that the disclosure may cause moral suffering for a child, affect his/her mental state, and/or impede the process of raising a child – allows such a disclosure solely with the consent of his/her adoptive parents.

Judicial Interpretation of the Provisions Under the Constitutional Review

Article 139 of the Russian Family Code and Article 47 of the Federal Law “Acts of Civil Status”,  are applied by courts also in cases where an adult person wants to learn about his/her origins after the death of his/her grandparents, as the disclosure of the secret of adoption without the consent of the adoptive parents is involved in such cases. The fact that due to their death their consent cannot be received does not alter this interpretation.

The Concept of “Private Life”

Meanwhile, the Constitution of the Russian Federation provides for different levels of guarantees of the right to information and a different degree of its possible restrictions.

By virtue of the requirements of Articles 23 (1) and 24 (1) of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, any information about a person’s private life is confidential in nature, and therefore, in any case, it is information of limited access. The concept of “private life” is a broad one including an area of ​​human activity that relates to a person, concerns only him/her and is not subject to control by society and the state, if it is not unlawful in nature (Decision of the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation of the 9th of June 2005 No. 248 -O).

Accordingly, only the person himself has the right to determine exactly what information related to his/her private life should be kept confidential, and therefore the collection, storage, use, and dissemination of such information is not allowed without the consent of the person concerned.  Otherwise, it would lead to an arbitrary intervention in a person’s private life and would narrow the concept of privacy and the scope of guarantees for its protection (Decision of the Constitutional Court of the 28th of June 2012  № 1253-О).

Relevant International Instruments

According to Article 10 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms: “Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers”.

The 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child enshrines the right of the child to know, as far as possible, his or her parents (Article 7 (1)), and the right of the child to preserve his or her identity, including nationality, name, and family relations as recognized by law without unlawful interference (Article 8 (1)).

An  Access to Information About One’s Biological Origin

It does not follow from the Constitution of the Russian Federation that the right of an individual to receive information  about his/her origin (in this case, the origin of the father of an applicant) is not to be exercised.

Thus, information about the child’s origin, may be indispensable to reveal the family’s genetic history and biological relationships that make up an important part of every person’s identity.

At the same time, if adoptive parents failed to express their will to disclose the secret of adoption, their death does not terminate the adoption secrecy regime.

Accordingly, the legal possibility of disclosure to the descendants of an adopted person of information regarding his/her adoption  does not fail  to meet constitutional requirements.

However, judicial control over the  decision of an administrative character  to disclose or to refuse to disclose relevant information to the descendants of an adopted person  allows a proper balance to be struck.

It is to be noted that access to information about biological origin after the death of adoptive parents does not change the filiation and civil status of the descendants of an adopted person neither does it confer any rights or obligations on the biological relatives of the adopted person.

Thus, Article 139 of the Russian Family Code and Article 47 of the Federal Law “Acts of Civil Status”  do not contradict the Constitution as they allow judicial disclosure of information about adoption after the death of the adopted person and the adoptive parents to descendants of the adopted person.

Having deliberated and referred to Articles 6, 47.1, 71, 72, 74, 75, 78, 79 and 100 of the Federal Constitutional Law “The Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation”, the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation decided as follows:

  1. To recognise Article 139 of the Russian Family Code and Article 47 of the Federal Law “Acts of Civil Status” as not contradicting the Constitution of the Russian Federation, since these provisions do not impede judicial disclosure of the information on adoption to descendants of the adopted person if such disclosure is necessary for the exercise of their constitutional rights and provided that such disclosure ensures a balance of constitutionally protected values, rights and legally protected interests of the persons concerned.
  2. This interpretation is binding.
  3. Judgments relating to the applicant are to be quashed and to be reheard by the competent court.
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