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European Court's ruling on sibling incest under scrutiny

Publish date: 17 April 2012
Issue Number: 3016
Diary: Legalbrief Today
Category: Legislation

'The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has upheld a German ruling against sibling incest, but some questions remain unanswered,' writes Paul Behrens, law lecturer at the University of Leicester, in The Guardian.

He explains that the man who brought the case was Patrick Stübing - a young German, who was separated from his family as a little child, although when he was in his 20s, he looked for and found his biological mother. He also found his sister, with whom he fell in love. After their mother's death, the siblings began a sexual relationship, which produced four children. Germany, in line with many European countries, criminalises incest. By 2005, Stübing had been convicted several times - he appealed, and the case eventually reached the German Constitutional Court. The German court said the prohibition of incest was rooted in 'cultural history'. 'Did the European court get it all wrong,' asks Behrens. He posits that it did not, arguing that 'the court was not really asked to say if a law against incest is a good thing. It had to decide if the state is allowed to make such a law. That is a different question'. 'Morals are strange animals, and it is probably not a good idea to try to legislate them for all of Europe,' states Behrens. He concludes: 'Why is European supervision appropriate in some cases, but not where the law puts a man in prison because he slept with his sister? It is a lingering concern. The Strasbourg judges have spoken; but the big debate on incest has not even begun.' Full report in The Guardian