On May 20, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that blanket disenfranchisement of people with disabilities is contrary to the European Convention of Human Rights.

The case, K.A. v. Hungary, brought by Jan Fiala LL.M. ’10, then an attorney at the Mental Disability Advocacy Center, involved a Hungarian citizen with disabilities who had been place under partial guardianship since 2005, and was not allowed to vote in the 2006 general elections. According to the Hungarian Constitution, persons under plenary or partial guardianship are deprived of their right to vote. The provision excludes an estimated 80,000 adults from political participation, representation and decision-making.

In its judgment the European Court of Human Rights stated that the European Convention of Human Rights does not allow for an absolute bar on voting rights applied to anyone placed under partial guardianship irrespective of a person’s actual abilities.

Even if the protocol permits restrictions to ensure that only citizens capable of assessing the consequences of their decisions and making conscious and judicious decisions should participate in public affairs, the Court found, a blanket restriction is not in compliance with the convention.

The court’s judgment recognized arguments in an amicus brief submitted by the Harvard Law School Project on Disability submitted by program director Professor Michael Stein ’88, who consulted HLS students in the process.

Advocates hope that the judgment in the case has the potential to trigger radical changes in the protection of political rights of persons with disabilities in Hungary and other countries in Eastern Europe with similar guardianship laws affecting the disabled.