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ECtHR: Poland has violated the prohibition of torture

The European Court of Human Rights held that Poland had violated the prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment in the cases of Piechowicz v. Poland and Horych v. Poland. The both cases concerned the situation of high-risk detainees status.

Mirosław Piechowicz was arrested in June 2006 on various charges, including drug trafficking and participating in a criminal organisation. He was classified as a high-risk detainee and kept in solitary confinement. The Applicant was constantly monitored and repeatedly subjected to body searches. Each time he left the cell, he was handcuffed and shackled. The above measures are obligatory for all high-risk detainees and apply also during family visits. No grounds for extending the high-risk status appeared during the Applicants’ detention.

These measures were applied against Mr Piechowicz for the period of two years and nine months, while Mr Horych was subjected to the high-risk regime for over seven years.

The Strasbourg Court held that the initial decision to classify the Applicants as high-risk detainees had been legitimate as that they had been charged with very serious offences. However, the Court could not accept that the prolonged application of the regime, with all the ensuing consequences, had been necessary for maintaining prison security. The Court doubted if “handcuffing and shackling high-risk detainees on leaving their cells”, applied as a measure “unrelated to their actual behaviour”, had indeed been necessary on each and every occasion.

“In the both cases, the Court also noted that the duration and severity of the measures resulting from the high-risk detainee status exceeded the requirements of prison security”, says Maria Ejchart, a HFHR lawyer.

The ECtHR found that a violation of Article 3 of the Convention (prohibition of torture) had been partly caused by the authorities’ failure to review whether the grounds for extending the regime still existed.

“Once again, the Strasbourg Court held that Poland’s practice contravened European standards”, says Maria Ejchart. “In our opinion, the judgment should result in a change of legal regulations that may pose practical differences. The law should provide that the high-risk detainee regime is applied only in exceptional circumstances and for a limited duration, as required by safety considerations”, adds Ms Ejchart.

The HFHR has filed an amicus curiae brief in the Piechowicz case. The Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights admits that in some cases the high-risk detainee/prisoner regime must be applied. However, the use of such extraordinary measures cannot cause violations of human rights.

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