Eremiášová and Pechová v. The Czech Republic

Application No. 23944/04
Download Judgment: English
Country: Czech Republic
Region: Europe
Year: 2012
Court: European Court of Human Rights
Health Topics: Prisons
Human Rights: Right to life
Tags: Custody, Detainee, Detention, Imprisonment, Incarceration, Inmate, Jail, Law enforcement, Police

V.P., the partner of the first applicant and son of the second applicant, was arrested for suspected burglary. At the Police Department he was charged with illegal entry into a house and theft. According to official reports, after V.P. signed the notice of charges, he asked to use the toilet. He was accompanied to the toilet on a lower floor because the toilet on the floor where he was located did not have bars on it. He was escorted by two officers, and was not permitted to close the door to the toilet for security reasons. Reports indicated that V.P. was calm and the police did not use handcuffs but one officer maintained a loose grip on V.P.’s hand during transportation. On the way back from the toilet, it was reported that V.P. managed to break away from the officers who were escorting him and jump head first through a closed window into the yard outside. The police provided first aid, and he was transported to the hospital, but V.P. died the next morning as a result of his injuries.

An investigation was commenced by the police in which it was determined that the police did not commit a crime. Autopsy reports showed that V.P. died from trauma to the head, and the police considered the death a suicide. V.P.’s family believed, however, that the police were involved in the incident and filed a criminal complaint against the officers on duty. An investigation was commenced by the Supervision Department, which determined that there was no reasonable suspicion that the officers committed an offense. V.P.’s partner filed a complaint against the Supervision Department’s decision, but the district prosecutor considered it to be premature and remanded the case for further proceedings by the Supervision Department. After further investigation, the Supervision Department again found that there was “no reasonable suspicion of an offense.”

The applicants filed another criminal complaint alleging the police had assisted in V.P.’s suicide and suggested that there were a number of problems with the previous inquiries. The regional prosecutor found no evidence of a crime, but did admit procedural failures in the investigation and requested that the evidence be supplemented. The district prosecutor requested that the Supervision Department move forward with this request but the Supervision Department decided not to proceed on the grounds that there was no reasonable suspicion of a crime.

The applicants again appealed on the grounds that there were many factual errors and inconsistencies in the case file. The district prosecutor dismissed the appeal, and explained that, while the victim’s intentions would never be known, V.P. “most probably attempted to escape.”

The applicants alleged a breach of Article 2 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (“Convention”), which protects the right to life. The applicants also alleged a violation of Article 13 of the Convention, which provides the right to an effective remedy for a violation of the Convention.

The Court held that there were violations of Article 2. The Court reasoned that Article 2 not only requires that States refrain from the unlawful taking of a life, but also requires that States take steps to safeguard life. The Court focused on two issues under Article 2—whether the State had given an appropriate explanation for the cause of death of V.P. and whether the State had sufficiently protected V.P. The Court held that while there was not enough evidence to determine whether the police knew or should had known that there was a risk V.P. might try to escape, the officers “should have acted with more care to prevent V.P. from jumping under the alleged circumstances.”

The Court also considered the investigation into V.P.’s death and explained that these investigations must be undertaken quickly and that the persons responsible for carrying out the investigation must be independent from those implicated in the events. The Court held that “the requirements of adequacy, diligence and promptness” as well as independence were not found with regards to the investigation, which was also an Article 2 violation.

“The Court reiterates that where an individual is taken into police custody in good health and is found to be injured on release, it is incumbent on the State to provide a plausible explanation of how these injuries were caused.” Para. 108.

”The Court is of the view that it would be excessive to request the States to put bars on any window at a police station in order to prevent tragic events like the one in the instant case. However, this does not relieve the States of their duty under Article 2 of the Convention to protect life of arrested and detained persons from a foreseeable danger occurring. Notwithstanding the allegation that V.P.’s behaviour was calm, it remains the case that the authorities appear to have known that there was some risk that V.P. would try to abscond. In fact they did not let him use the toilet on the second floor where there were no bars. They escorted him to the one located on the ground floor provided with bars and did not let him close the door of the toilet located on the ground floor for security reasons. Given that windows had no bars not only on the second floor but also on the mezzanine floor between the first and the second floor, the officers should have acted with more care to prevent V.P. from jumping under the alleged circumstances.” Para. 117.