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No compensation for unjustified psychiatric committal in ECtHR

The HFHR has submitted to the ECtHR an amicus curiae brief in the case of R. v. Poland (application no. 20206/11). The aggrieved party argued that she was unable to receive compensation for involuntary placement at a psychiatric hospital and that the proceedings in her case had been excessively lengthy.

In late October 2007, the applicant was committed to involuntary psychiatric treatment. The woman was diagnosed with schizophrenia and was suspected of intentionally setting fire to her apartment in order to commit suicide. In consequence of the above, the applicant spent more than two months in a psychiatric hospital, unable to obtain a judicial review of her committal. Only after she had left the psychiatric hospital did the guardianship court state that the involuntary psychiatric treatment was unjustified. In the opinion of the court, the woman did not pose a threat either to herself or the environment and the fire in her apartment was caused by a malfunction of the electrical system. Despite such outcome of the case, the applicant did not receive any compensation for unjustified deprivation of liberty. Civil courts decided that although there were no grounds for compulsory hospitalisation it was not illegal within the meaning of the Civil Code.

“Polish laws do not give guarantee to persons who are being involuntarily treated in psychiatric hospitals that courts will promptly review the legality of a decision to deprive them of their liberty”, emphasises Marcin Szwed, a lawyer from the HFHR. The time frames stipulated in the Mental Health Protection Act have been given only for guidance purposes and a failure to keep any of them has no legal ramifications. An analysis of statistical data conducted by the HFHR suggests that frequently it takes weeks or even months for courts to enter judgements concerning the reasonableness of involuntary placement in a psychiatric hospital. This, in result, can have a very negative impact on the persons who are deprived of liberty, especially given that at psychiatric hospitals patients can be submitted to medical procedures even against their will.

In its opinion the HFHR addressed matters connected with the pursuit of compensation for illegal placement in a psychiatric hospital. Jurisprudential discrepancies can be found with regard to whether courts which issue a judgement concerning compensation should comply with a decision of a guardianship court declaring the absence of grounds for hospitalisation. “According to some courts not all unjustified placements at psychiatric hospitals were illegal. However, in a judgement of 2015, the Supreme Court decided that such interpretation is flawed”, explains Mr Szwed.

The amicus curiae brief may be accessed here.

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