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No effective court proceedings in detention death case

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg decided the case of P. v. Poland. The applicant was a mother whose daughter died while being held in a detention centre pending trial.

The applicant’s daughter was detained at the end of 2003. The woman’s family reported her problems with health to the detention centre’s administration. Their warnings had been disregarded and after a few days after admission, the applicant’s daughter was rushed to a hospital in a serious condition. Shortly afterwards, the woman died. Criminal proceedings against the centre’s doctor had been pending before domestic courts but were discontinued in December 2013 due to the expiry of a statute of limitation for the alleged offence.

In her application to the ECtHR, the mother argued that Polish authorities had violated her daughter’s right to life (Article 2 of the Convention) having failed to ensure proper medical care in the period of her detention. The applicant also alleged a violation of standards of due process, which resulted from a failure to conduct an expedient and effective judicial proceedings that would determine the cause of the woman’s death and prosecute those responsible for the tragedy.

“This is yet another case of the Strategic Litigation Programme that involves the problems faced by persons deprived of liberty, including the issues related to their right to life and appropriate healthcare. However, the length of the proceedings conducted in this case shows a particular issue that has long been affecting the Polish justice system”, adds Katarzyna Wiśniewska, a lawyer of the HFHR. The applicant was represented by Mr Mikołaj Pietrzak and Mr Paweł Osik, advocates of Pietrzak Sidor & Wspólnicy, acting pro bono as a courtesy to the HFHR.

The Polish government has issued a unilateral declaration before the ECtHR, admitting that the applicant’s daughter had been treated in contravention of Article 2 of the Convention. The government stipulated that the woman had been deprived of proper medical care in detention. The government also admitted that the Convention’s Article 2 was breached by the authorities’ failure to ensure the applicant an expedient and effective proceedings in respect of P. daughter’s death. Poland agreed to pay to the applicant the sum of EUR 15,000.

“The ECtHR’s ruling emphasises the need for ensuring proper medical care to persons deprived of liberty in Poland”, says Paweł Osik of Pietrzak Sidor & Wspólnicy.

“I hope that this decision will provide a stimulus for the development of such systemic solutions in Poland that would prevent any future allegations of our country violating the procedural aspect of one’s right to life. The quick and effective inquiry into a death of a detained person must be perceived as one of the benchmarks of a country ruled by law and complying with human rights protection standards”, said Mikołaj Pietrzak, summing up the outcome of the case.


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