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Avilkina and Others v. Russia, No. 1585/09, ECtHR (First Section), 6 June 2013


Data protection. Criminal investigation on the activities of the Jehova's Witnesses. Disclosure to the public prosecutor of confidential medical information of the churchgoers.

Normative references

Art. 8 ECHR


In the context of criminal investigations, national authorities must seek a fair balance between the individual’s right to respect for private life and the prosecutor’s aim of protecting public health and security. Therefore, the collection by the judicial authorities of confidential medical information is admissible only if it’s accompanied by sufficient safeguards, pursuant to art. 8 ECHR (case in which the Russian public prosecutor, in the context of an inquiry on the activities of the Jehova’s Witnesses, ordered the disclosure of the applicants’ medical files following their refusal to have blood transfusions in public hospitals, without giving them any notice or an opportunity to object or to agree). 


In the grounds for the judgment, the Strassbourg Court observed that the applicants were not suspects or accused in any criminal investigation, since the public prosecutor was merely conducting an inquiry into the activities of the Jehova’s Witnesses in response to complaints received by his office. Moreover, the hospitals where the applicants had been treated had not reported any alleged criminal behaviour on the applicant’s behalf. Finally, the European Court noted that there were options, other than ordering the disclosure of confidential medical information, available to the prosecutor to follow up on the complaints lodged with his office: in particular, he could have tried to obtain the applicants’ consent for the disclosure and/or questioned them in relation to the matter.