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After nearly 13 years, court awards 700,000 zloty for unlawful detention on remand

A final judgment has been passed in the case of a former Provincial Police Commissioner charged with conspiring with members of the so-called “Fuel Mafia”. The man had been since acquitted on all counts and now he was awarded PLN 700,000 in compensation for a moral injury caused by unlawful detention.
The case started in 2005. M., a Provincial Police Commissioner, was arrested on suspicion of corruption, the disclosure of state secrets and obstruction of criminal proceedings. All those charges were connected with the alleged conspiracy between M. and individuals involved in country-wide illegal trading in fuels, which resulted in the state budget losing billions of unpaid excise duty taxes. The police chief was allegedly accepting bribes in return for preventing the detention of a refinery boss and ending the surveillance of transports of illegal fuel. He was also charged with passing confidential documents to members of the “Fuel Mafia”.

His detention was extended on several occasions. Ultimately, the Commissioner had spent nearly 30 months behind bars before he was released in October 2007.

The HFHR helped M. throughout the proceedings, being involved in the monitoring of this case and assisting him in submitting an application to the European Court of Human Rights, in which he complained against his prolonged detention. The man also sought remedies before Polish courts.

Justice after almost 13 years
In 2011 and 2015 M. was finally acquitted on all charges of criminal conspiracy with the “Fuel Mafia”. However, it had not been until 2017 when a court ruled on his unlawful detention on remand: a Court of Appeal awarded the former Commissioner PLN 700,000 in compensation for a moral injury. M. also won before the European Court of Human Rights: Polish Government made a unilateral declaration before the ECtHR in which it admitted that M. had been unlawfully detained for nearly 30 months and agreed to pay PLN 13,000.

Is detention really “on remand”?
M.’s case is yet another proof that the overuse of detention on remand, or pre-trial detention, as this measure is sometimes called, is a systemic problem of the Polish justice system, an issue that was noted by the ECtHR already in 2009. “From our experience, pre-trial detention in many cases is blindly applied for a very long duration”, says Piotr Kubaszewski, a lawyer working with the HFHR. “We handle many cases in which pre-trial detention has been used for longer than two years, there are even cases of detention applied for as long as eight years, Mr Kubaszewski adds.

Without proper justification
These abnormalities were also noted by M., who wrote to the Foundation that a court extended his pre-trial detention based on the high degree of probability of the commission of the offences he had been charged with but without any knowledge of the case files. Moreover, as the former Commissioner wrote, “Extensions of the preventive measure were justified by phrases and expression copied verbatim from the indictment, along with – as I was able to confirm – typos, or ‘obvious clerical errors’, made by the author of the indictment.

To find out more about the abuse of laws allowing pre-trial detention, please read the HFHR’s report The Practice of Pre-trial Detention in Poland.

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