This article has been taken from Total Croatia News portal. The author is Forrest Stilin. You can access it here.
The Social Welfare Center in Zagreb again rejected the foster care application submitted by Ivo Šegota and Mladen Kožić, who are life partners in Croatia. By doing so, they have completely disregarded the Croatian Administrative Court's December 2019 binding judgment, which allowed the couple to become foster parents after a long two-year court battle.
Couple Had Started Preparing Home for Children
“We're shocked. After the December verdict, we had started planning how we would prepare our home for children, and I had already announced to my boss that, as soon as children arrived, I would be taking a long-term unpaid leave. And then a decision from the center arrives stating that they will not respect the court's decision. For the first half hour I kept saying, "But how is this possible?" And then I reminded myself that this is another small obstacle that Ivo and I will have to overcome together. We’ll go forward patiently and continue learning and developing our parenting skills. Giving up is not an option,” said Mladen Kožić. He added that he will appeal this unexpected decision, which came with an even more unexpected explanation, with his partner. In fact, the decision literally states that "this body could not arrive at a decision that is based on the application of legal provisions but is based on the opinion of the court."
Šegota and Kožić applied to the center in 2017 with to become foster parents. The center began the procedure, the partners passed the required screening tests and received a positive assessment, which was followed by compulsory education for foster parents and obtained their license. But instead, the center suddenly informed them that "there are no legal prerequisites for initiating the licensing process because they are in a life partnership," and life partners are not expressly listed in the Foster Care Act as possible foster parents. However, singles, spouses and extra-marital partners are listed, as reported by Kristina Turčin/Jutarnji List on January 28, 2020. They couple submitted a complaint to the ministry, which confirmed the center’s decision, and then they initiated an administrative procedure.
Croatia Court December Decision: Couple Can Become Foster Parents
At the end of December, the Croatia Administrative Court issued a judgment that could no longer be appealed, annulling the earlier rulings, and returns the case to retrial. However, the judgment was more than clear. Total Croatia News reported this court decision on December 20, 2019.
“By a meaningful interpretation of the legal provisions in their interconnectedness, the foster family, in the court's view, may include the foster parent and his or her life partner. The legislator did not prescribe a specific sexual orientation anywhere, so it is not logical that a single person having the same sexual orientation as the plaintiffs would be issued a foster care license if he/she fulfills the legal requirements. In this case, the legal requirements (for providing foster care) were not even examined in case of the plaintiffs because of the belief that life partners cannot be foster parents,” the Croatia court ruling read.
“As the respondent deems that the defendant applied an exclusively formalistic or grammatical interpretation of the relevant provisions of the foster care law, without interconnecting them and interpreting them in accordance with their meaning and purpose; the first instance body (Social Welfare Center) will reopen the foster care application process and decide to grant permission solely on the merits of the plaintiff's request,” the judgment ordered.
Zagreb Social Welfare Center Denies Couple’s Application Again
However, the center issued the same decision as if there hadn’t been any judgments at all. Jutarnji List has not received an answer regarding the center’s decision because "CZSS (Social Welfare Center) Zagreb cannot provide details on proceedings in order to maintain official and professional secrets, respect the principles of secrecy, protect personal data and out of respect for privacy." The Ministry of Demography, Family, Youth and Social Policy would not comment and were surprised by Jutarnji List’s inquiry.
“Not only can we not comment on the decision of the center, but we are not aware of the fact that a new decision was made,” the ministry stated yesterday.
Zagreb Couple Must Appeal Decision Second Time
Šegota and Kožić must now go through the same procedure again, and an appeal of the center’s decision will be sent to the Croatia Ministry of Demography again.
“That's our next step. If the appeal is not upheld, we will return to the Administrative Court and ask that the court decide on its own and not return the proceedings to the beginning. These decisions by lower administrative bodies, which do not comply with binding judicial decisions, do not contribute to the rule of law. On the contrary, they insult the fundamental value of the constitutional order,” says lawyer Sanja Bezbradica Jelavić, who represents Šegota and Kožić.
“State institutions should adhere to court decisions,” says Gender Equality Ombudsperson Višnja Ljubičić.
Đuro Sessa: 'The decision of the center is not illegal, but it must have strong reasoning.'
The Zagreb Social Welfare Center may, in principle, issue the same decision that was reached previously since the court annulled that previous decision and sent the entire proceeding for reconsideration, explains Djuro Sessa, the Chief Justice of the Croatia Supreme Court.
“The court ruled that the case was going back for retrial. The court had the opportunity to resolve the issue on its own; not to seek a retrial but to replace the decision of the Social Welfare Center with its decision instead. The court could have decided to accept that the plaintiff's request, but they did not do so. Therefore, the center could arrive at the same decision, but the rationale for the decision should have been far more thorough,” Sessa adds.
Croatia Based 'Rainbow Families' Releases Statement
Rainbow Families (Dugine obitelji), which brings together LGBTI parents and those who wish to become parents in Croatia, released a statement today. It is printed below in full.
“It is unacceptable that the rule of law does not function in Croatia, which currently holds the EU Presidency and that court judgments are not respected.”
“The Administrative Court ruled in December 2019 that Ivo Šegota and Mladen Kožić, life partners who wish to become foster parents, have full rights in their intent. The ruling also indicated that they must not be discriminated against in these proceedings. The Social Welfare Center in Zagreb disregarded the court judgment and again rejected the foster application submitted by Mladen and Ivo. Rainbow Families, which brings together LGBTI parents and those who wish to become parents, consider the center’s actions outrageous. The center is acting as if the Administrative Court's judgment does not exist.”
“’This situation was already unbelievable, and it would be ridiculous if it weren’t so sad. The December 2019 decision of Administrative Court gave all of us, who believe in equality and respect for human rights, hope that there is a better future for our society. Since then, we have received an incredible number of messages of support regarding the December court verdict confirming our members, Ivo and Mladen, have the right to become foster parents. People have been stopping them on the road and congratulating them. And now we must witness this reckless, unthinkable, and more importantly, illegal conduct of the Social Welfare Center. What would the Social Welfare Center look like if it ignored the court's decision, for example, and allowed an abusive parent access or information about a child?’” Daniel Martinović, coordinator of Rainbow Families, pointed out.
"Our politicians are constantly heaping praise on our country simply because it currently holds the Presidency of the Council of the European Union. We are also told repeatedly about what a great honor it is for all of us, how proud we can all be of Croatia, how it is proof that we stand side by side with other EU countries. It hasn’t not even been a month since that famous presidency began, and we already have countless examples of where that all falls into the water. We consider this the worst example so far because it shows that institutions in this country do not respect the rule of law or court judgments, which is unthinkable in countries like Germany, Belgium or France."
"Life partners Ivo and Mladen will appeal to the Croatia Ministry of Demography regarding the center’s decision. If the ministry does not accept that appeal, they will go back to the Administrative Court and ask the court to make its own decision. Judging by the first ruling of the Administrative Court, they are fully entitled to become potential foster parents, and legal experts are already warning of the problematic situation the center's decision (last week) will create."
"Basically, in the first decision, the center rejected Mladen and Ivo’s application. However, they did not correctly apply the legal provisions of the Republic of Croatia, and when they were corrected by the relevant court, which rendered a binding decision, they interpreted the court's judgment as 'an opinion' which is not binding, and thus refused to correct their own misinterpretation of the law."
"'The center’s disregard for the ruling of the Administrative Court causes great legal uncertainty and is harmful LGBTI citizens who are protected by several Croatian laws and European case laws. The judgment clearly instructed the center to decide on the merits of the plaintiffs' request, but they rejected that request, which is contrary to the judgment. They have demonstrated that they do not want to act on the couple’s request to become foster parents, which they submitted back in 2017. If this case is brought before the European Court of Human Rights, there is a very good chance that Croatia will again be forced to respect all its citizens equally and grant them equal rights on equal terms,'" explained attorney Zrinka Bojanić, an associate of Rainbow Families.