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Compensation for imprisonment caused by judicial error

Court of Appeal in Katowice upheld the decision of a court of first instance to award PLN 80,000 in compensation to a man who was imprisoned in the result of a mistake of a court and probation officer. The Court decided that during the period of conditional suspension of a custodial penalty the man was sentenced for another offence, although in reality it was committed by a different person bearing the same surname but a different first name.

In 2012 the District Court affirmed the motion of a probation officer and ordered the enforcement of a conditionally suspended sentence of six months in prison. The man spent in total 134 days in different correctional facilities. During his prison term he unsuccessfully tried to find out the reasons for his detention. Only once he has left the prison had it turned out that the decision to enforce the sentence was made under a different conviction concerning a different person bearing only the same surname.

In May 2013 the man filed a lawsuit pursuing the award of PLN 300,000 from the State Treasury as compensation for his moral loss. He argued that his incarceration resulted in a damage to his health, he was harassed by other inmates and had difficulties with returning to the normal live outside the prison.

During the whole course of proceedings, the State Treasury Solicitors’ Office argued that his claims should be dismissed on all counts. In the opinion of the Solicitors’ Office, there were no circumstances justifying an award of a compensation. The Solicitors’ Office argued that the detention had not worsen the man’s life situation as he had already been an unemployed and homeless person. The State Treasury also rejected a settlement proposal. “For us this an especially important case because it involves one of the fundamental values – one’s personal freedom. The right to request compensation for the miscarriage of justice cannot depend on the material or social status of the claimant”, said Katarzyna Wiśniewska, a lawyer of the HFHR.

Courts decided that the lawsuit had merit and awarded the man PLN 80,000 in compensation for moral injury. “In an oral argument before the second instance court I highlighted the fact that both the Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights place an obligation upon the state to pay compensation to a person unlawfully deprived of their liberty. Right to compensation should be actually available and the seeking of compensation cannot cause excessive difficulties”, said Marcin Szwed, the HFHR’s representative during the proceedings before the Court of Appeal.

The Foundation has been involved in the case since 2013.

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