McGlinchey and Ors. v. United Kingdom

McGlinchey v. U.K., App. No. 50390/99, 37 EHRR 41 (2003).
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Applicants, family members of an individual addicted to heroin who died in prison, alleged that the State violated Articles 3 (freedom from torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment) and 13 (right to effective remedy) of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (“the Convention”) because the prisoner, Ms. McGlinchey, manifested heroine-withdrawal symptoms but did not receive adequate medical attention. According to the applicants, this amounted to inhumane and degrading treatment.

Ms. McGlinchey, who had a long history of heroin addiction, vomited frequently and lost a significant amount of weight as she used her time in prison to withdraw from her drug use. She was seen by a doctor on three occasions and was admitted to a hospital where she died. Her family alleged that she suffered inhuman and degrading treatment prior to her death in violation of Article 3 of the Convention. Her family also claimed to have suffered distress from knowledge of the woman’s inadequate medical treatment and that the United Kingdom did not provide an effective remedy to the family or the deceased in violation of Article 13 of the Convention.

The prison authorities failed to comply with their duty to provide Ms. McGlinchey with the requisite medical care, insofar as the authorities improperly monitored Ms. McGlinchey’s weight loss, which resulted in a gap in the monitoring of her condition and caused her further physical suffering and distress. Consequently, the United Kingdom’s treatment amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment in violation of Article 3 of the Convention. Furthermore, since there was no compensation available under English law for the deceased’s suffering and distress, applicants had no possibility of obtaining damages, which violated Article 13 of the Convention. Accordingly, the respondent State was ordered to pay non-pecuniary damages to the applicants, as well as costs and expenses.

"57. The evidence indicates to the Court that by the morning of 14 December 1998 Judith McGlinchey, a heroin addict whose nutritional state and general health were not good on admission to prison, had suffered serious weight loss and was dehydrated. This was the result of a week of largely uncontrolled vomiting symptoms and an inability to eat or hold down fluids. This situation, in addition to causing Judith McGlinchey distress and suffering, posed very serious risks to her health, as shown by her subsequent collapse. Having regard to the responsibility owed by prison authorities to provide the requisite medical care for detained persons, the Court finds that in the present case there was a failure to meet the standards imposed by Article 3 of the Convention. It notes in this context the failure of the prison authorities to provide accurate means of establishing Judith McGlinchey's weight loss, which was a factor that should have alerted the prison to the seriousness of her condition, but was largely discounted due to the discrepancy of the scales. There was a gap in the monitoring of her condition by a doctor over the weekend when there was a further significant drop in weight and a failure of the prison to take more effective steps to treat Judith McGlinchey's condition, such as her admission to hospital to ensure the intake of medication and fluids intravenously, or to obtain more expert assistance in controlling the vomiting." Page 15.