Case of D.G. v. Ireland

ECHR no. 39474/98 (16 May 2002)
Download Judgment: English

The applicant was a minor who alleged that his detention in a penal institution and by failing to provide him with suitable care and accommodation violated domestic Irish law and the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (the “Convention”). The applicant had been in the care of the Eastern Health Board due to his family situation, which placed him in a series of children’s and foster homes. The applicant was arrested multiple times for violent offenses and the Board characterized him as an individual that posed a danger to himself and others.

In 1996, after the applicant was sentenced to prison, the Irish High Court granted a warrant allowing the applicant to serve his sentence at St. Patrick’s Institution, a penal institution. Though the applicant was supposed to be sentenced to a high-support therapeutic unit for minors with special needs, no such facility existed in Ireland, and St. Patrick’s was deemed the best option due to the risks that applicant posed. Applicant argued that being placed in St. Patrick’s rather than a high-security unit for minors unlawfully restricted his liberty and welfare.

The High Court’s decision to place applicant in St. Patrick’s was appealed to the Supreme Court, which found that the High Court both had jurisdiction to make the decision and did so lawfully. The case was then lodged with the European Commission of Human Rights against Ireland.

The Commission held that there was no violation of domestic Irish law. The Irish High and Supreme Courts had both come to this conclusion, and the Commission affirmed that the High Court had the jurisdiction to make this decision.


However, the Commission held that there was a violation of Article 5 §1 of the Convention. Though applicant was “deprived of his liberty” within the meaning of Article 5 §1, the government argued that his detention was exempted from the Article’s requirements because it was for the purpose of educational supervision to deal with juvenile delinquency. However, the Court found that St. Patrick’s was a penal institution, not an educational one, and any educational or recreational services that it provided were voluntary and the applicant did not participate in them. Therefore, the detention was not an acceptable exemption and the Irish State had violated Article 5 § 1.

The Court held that there was no violation of Articles 3, 8, or 14 of the Convention. The Court found that Article 3 of the Convention, which bars torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, was not violated because the applicant’s detention did not constitute punishment. The detention in a penal institution was a necessary action due to the applicant’s danger to himself and others, and the conditions inside St. Patrick’s were not inhuman or degrading. The applicant also argued that his detention was an unjustifiable interference with his private and family life in violation of Article 8 of the Convention. However, the Court found that the lawfulness of his detention did not sufficiently implicate his private or family life to give rise to a violation. The Court also found that the applicant was not discriminated against on the grounds of his social origin, birth or “other status” in violation of Article 14 as there was no evidence to support such a finding.

The Court awarded applicant 5,000 euros for non-pecuniary damage and 16,138 Euros for his costs and expenses.

The Chief Justice noted the conflicting constitutional rights of the applicant at issue in the case: on the one hand he had the right to liberty (Article 40) and, on the other hand, he had the unenumerated right “to be fed and to live, to be reared and educated, to have the opportunity of working and of realising his or her personality and dignity as a human being.” (Para 28) 

The Court notes that the detention orders impugned in the present case were made against the background of enduring and considerable efforts by various authorities to ensure the best possible care and upbringing for the applicant. Nevertheless, the Court’s case-law, outlined above, provides that if the Irish State chose a constitutional system of educational supervision implemented through court orders to deal with juvenile delinquency, it was obliged to put in place appropriate institutional facilities which met the security and educational demands of that system in order to satisfy the requirements of Article 5 § 1 (d).” (Para 79)

[T]he Court noted that his detention was not punitive but rather protective in nature given the danger the applicant posed to himself and to others; that St. Patrick’s was a detention centre adapted to juvenile detainees, with a broad range of educational and recreational facilities available to all inmates; that its disciplinary regime was tailored to allow greater access to and assessment of, the applicant by the relevant care workers; that the applicant had been detained in St. Patrick’s only a few months prior to the impugned period of detention and appeared to the High Court to have done well there; and that a significant portion of the detainees were of comparable age to the applicant.” (Para 124)