ECHR Article 5-1-a
Applicant’s continued placement in psychiatric hospital after expiry of his prison term: no violation
Facts – In 1995 the applicant was convicted of homicide and sentenced to eight and a half years’ imprisonment and placement in a psychiatric hospital on grounds of diminished responsibility. In making the order for the applicant’s placement, the sentencing court relied on expert evidence indicating that the applicant suffered from a serious personality disorder characterised by violent outbursts and diminished capability to control his acts and was likely to kill again if he found himself in a similar conflict situation. No appeal was lodged against that order, which therefore became final. After spending four years in prison, the applicant was transferred to a psychiatric hospital in 1998. However, in subsequent proceedings for review of the applicant’s detention, the medical director of the hospital concluded that the applicant’s placement was wrongful as, although he had an ‘accentuated personality’ and was very likely to reoffend if released, the applicant was not in fact suffering from a persisting pathological mental disorder and lacked the motivation to complete a course of therapy. The court dealing with the execution of sentences then ordered his return to prison, where he served the remainder of his prison sentence. In the meantime, however, the court of appeal upheld a decision by the regional court not to declare the applicant’s placement in a psychiatric hospital terminated, despite further expert psychiatric evidence confirming the medical director’s view that the applicant had not been suffering from a serious personality disorder diminishing his criminal responsibility at the time the offence was committed. The court of appeal considered that even though the sentencing court’s order for the applicant’s placement in a psychiatric hospital was the result of an erroneous legal qualification, that qualification could not be corrected by the courts dealing with the execution of sentences as to do so would violate the constitutional principle of the finality of judicial decisions. Accordingly, after completing his prison sentence in October 2003 the applicant was transferred to a psychiatric hospital. The domestic courts came to a like conclusion on a further review of the applicant’s psychiatric placement in 2006 and the Federal Constitutional Court declined to consider the applicant’s constitutional complaint.
In his application to the European Court, the applicant complained that his continued confinement in a psychiatric hospital had violated his right to liberty. His detention had been prolonged despite the fact that it had been established that he did not suffer and had in fact never suffered from a condition diminishing or excluding his criminal responsibility.
Law – Article 5-1 (a): The Court firstly had to establish whether there was a sufficient causal connection between the applicant’s conviction by the sentencing court in 1995 and his continuing deprivation of liberty from 2006 onwards. In that connection, it noted that both the sentencing court and the courts dealing with the execution of sentences agreed that the applicant suffered from a personality disorder and was likely to commit further offences if released. Further, even though they disagreed on the legal qualification of that disorder, the courts dealing with the execution of sentences had accepted that the classification by the sentencing court had acquired legal force and could not be changed. In that, connection, the Court noted that a court’s reliance on the findings in a final judgment of a criminal court to justify a person’s detention, even if such findings were or may have been wrong, did not, as a rule, raise an issue under Article 5-1: a flawed conviction would render a detention unlawful only if the conviction were the result of a flagrant denial of justice, which was not the case here. Given that the courts dealing with the execution of sentences had pursued the aims of protecting the public and providing treatment for the applicant’s personality disorder, the Court was satisfied that their decision not to release the applicant had been based on grounds consistent with the aims pursued by the sentencing court when ordering his detention in a psychiatric hospital. There therefore remained a sufficient causal connection for the purposes of sub-paragraph (a) of Article 5-1 between the applicant’s conviction in 1995 and his continuing detention in a psychiatric hospital. Such continuation of the applicant’s detention had a legal basis in domestic law, which under the domestic jurisprudence had been foreseeable in his case. Furthermore, the domestic courts had given detailed reasons for their decisions and their interpretation of the applicable provision of domestic law was aimed at protecting the finality of the sentencing court’s judgment, which could not be seen as contravening as such the purpose of Article 5. Finally, the applicant had not been arbitrarily deprived of his liberty since the domestic courts’ application of the domestic law did not render his release impossible as soon as it could be concluded that he would not commit any further unlawful acts. As the applicant had not yet met that condition, the execution of the detention order against him had not been suspended. Therefore, the order for the applicant’s continued confinement in a psychiatric hospital was ‘lawful’ and ‘in accordance with a procedure prescribed by law’, as required by Article 5-1.
Conclusion: no violation (five votes to two).
Summary – Radu v Germany ECHR 16-May-2013
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.
Human Rights, Prisons, Health
Updated: 15 November 2021; Ref: scu.512073