Monday, 12 January 2009

Police Violence Cases

Last week, the Court issued two judgments on police violence, one concerning Spain, the other concerning Greece. In the Spanish case, Iribarren Pinillos, the applicant had been severely wounded when during a riot the police fired a smoke-bomb at him. When an ambulance arrived he was partly paralysed, had severe burns and had even stopped breathing. It is important in this case that the Court clarifies that many of state duties applicable under the right to life (Article 2) also apply under Article 3 ECHR. Two of the key aspects now clarified as being also applicable under Article 3 are the duty to conduct an investigation and the possibility to obtain compensation (on the national level) for pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages. Thus even violence that was not (potentially) lethal and for which the state was responsible falls under this regime.

It may be noted that the applicant was awarded high compensation for both pecuniary (100,000 euros) and non-pecuniary (40,000 euros) damages. The judgment is available only in French, but a press release in English can be found here. The Court's press service has, by the way, conveniently started to add links to the judgments to its press releases.

The other judgment on police violence is the case of Leonidis v. Greece, the Court found a substantive violation of the right to life. In 2000, the applicant's son had been shot in a chase by the police which went awfully wrong. As in earlier Greek cases (most notably Makaratzis), the Court pointed to the lack of clear guidelines on the use of force in peacetime. Coming as it did so quickly after another shooting by the Greek police last autumn, which caused enormous unrest and even rioting in Greece (see e.g. this report in the Guardian), one may only hope that the country's authorities will now finally take the Court's emphasis on the need for clear rules and proper training at heart.


Wim Muller said...

Hi Antoine, Many thanks for your drawing attention to these cases. I have also been a regular reader of your weblog for a while now, and thought that the following might be of interest to my fellow readers.

I would say that the duty to conduct a proper investigation has long been part of the case-law of the ECHR, ever since at least Ribitsch v. Austria (1991) and Aksoy v. Turkey (1995), in which it held that "where an individual is taken into police custody in good health but is found to be injured at the time of release, it is incumbent on the State to provide a plausible explanation as to the causing of the injury, failing which a clear issue arises under Article 3 of the Convention." Since then, the duty to investigate has been elaborated upon in cases such as Assenov v. Bulgaria, Selmouni v. France, Afanasyev v. Ukraine and notably Mikheyev v. Russia, in which so many things went wrong in an investigation that the Court had the opportunity to list all the necessary elements to make an investigation go right. So not only has there long been a duty to investigate, if the investigation does not satisfy certain requirements of due diligence a state may still be in violation of Article 3. The possibility to obtain compensation has played a role before as well, including in the recent judgment in Gäfgen v. Germany, but maybe the Court does add to it in a new way in this judgment.

Antoine Buyse said...

Dear Wim,

Hope you are doing well. Thanks for your additions. You are indeed completely correct that especially the duty to investigate is already part of the Court's case-law. What is special in this case, is that the Court explicitly puts that duty on a par with the duties under Article 2, as if to stress that the two rights are of equal importance (and the dividing line between them of less relevance at least from this perspective: was the violence potentially lethal or not).