Kats and Others v Ukraine: ECHR 18 Dec 2008

The applicants were the parents and son of a prisoner who died in custody of an HIV related illness. They complained of her treatment in custody.
Held: If someone dies in custody an explanation of the cause of death must be provided, including a narrative of medical treatment provided. Also a suspicious death in custody inevitably raises the question of a breach of article 2 on the part of the authorities.
There had been a violation of the positive obligation under article 2 as a result of a failure to safeguard the life of the deceased. The prison authorities were aware of the deceased’s HIV status and there was a striking failure to give her medical attention. Her death was the result of inadequate medical assistance. There was also a violation of article 2 in respect of the lack of an adequate investigation into the circumstances of the death. It is instructive to see how the court described the investigative duties which arise as part of the positive obligations under article 2 and contrasted them with the procedural obligation which arises when the responsibility of the state for the death is ‘potentially engaged’, as it was in this case as a result of the wholly inadequate nature of the medical facilities and treatment available.
Held: The court noted the different factual contentions of the parties: on the one hand the applicants said that the authorities were well aware of her condition which they failed to treat, and on the other the state suggested that the death resulted from an unpredictable development of the illness which had occurred before the deceased went into custody but of which she failed to inform the authorities. That issue was resolved in favour of the applicants. The court reiterated that the state was under an obligation to take appropriate steps to safeguard the lives of those within its jurisdiction and continued: ‘Persons in custody are in a particularly vulnerable position and the authorities are under an obligation to account for their treatment, Having held that the Convention requires the state to protect the health and physical well-being of persons deprived of their liberty, for example, by providing them with the requisite medical assistance, the Court considers that, where a detainee dies as a result of a health problem, the state must offer an explanation as to the cause of death and the treatment administered to the person concerned prior to his or her death.
As a general rule, the mere fact that an individual dies in suspicious circumstances while in custody should raise an issue as to whether the state has complied with its obligation to protect that person’s right to life.’
Rait Maruste, P
[2008] ECHR 1742, 29971/04, (2010) 51 EHRR 44
European Convention on Human Rights
Human Rights
See AlsoKats and Others v Ukraine ECHR 14-Mar-2006
. .
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CitedTyrrell v HM Senior Coroner County Durham and Darlington and Another Admn 26-Jul-2016
The court was aked what article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights requires of a coroner when a serving prisoner dies of natural causes.
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Updated: 22 March 2021; Ref: scu.450991