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European court upholds German ban on incestuous relationship

The European Court of Human Rights said it was within Germany’s rights to stop a brother and sister from having a family life.

The European Court of Human Rights headquarters in Strasbourg.
The European Court of Human Rights headquarters in Strasbourg.
Image: Christian Lutz/AP

THE EUROPEAN COURT of Human Rights has upheld a German court ruling which stopped a man from having an incestuous relationship with his sister.

Patrick Stübing, who was adopted, had appealed the German ruling on the basis that it had violated his right to a private family life.

Stübing only became aware of his biological sister after their mother died in December 2000. The pair’s relationship had “intensified”, the court had been told, and they had begun sleeping together in January 2001 when Stübing was 23 and his sister 16.

The siblings went on to have four children between 2001 and 2005. It was reported that two of the four children are disabled, and that three of their four children live in external care.

Stübing was convicted of two counts of incest in 2005, and was sentenced to 14 months in prison. The ruling was upheld by an appeals court in Dresden, and Germany’s federal constitutional court in Karlsruhe in 2008.

The latter court said Stübing’s complaint was unfounded, saying the criminal code did not infringe the core area of private life.

‘Timid and withdrawn’

“The primary ground for punishment of sexual intercourse between biological siblings was the protection of marriage and the family, as incestuous relationships resulted in overlapping family roles,” the ECHR summarised.

The German courts had not convicted his sister, on the basis that she had a “timid and withdrawn personality structure” and was dependant on Stübing. She was therefore “only partially liable” for her actions.

Today the ECHR – a non-EU body – acknowledged that while there was no consensus between European countries on whether sexual acts between adult siblings was a criminal act, all of the Council of Europe member states outlawed marriage between siblings.

A panel of seven judges, including Irish member Ann Power, today ruled that there was “a broad consensus that sexual relationships between siblings were neither accepted by the legal order nor by society as a whole.”

It was satisfied that the German courts had carefully analysed all arguments put to it, and that it had considered the potential breach of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights – which provides for the right to a private family life – before conttj including that sexual relationships between siblings would damage family structures and therefore pose a risk to society as a whole.

Read: Woman carries father’s baby and claims: We’re in love

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Gavan Reilly

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