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Psychiatric committal based on out-of-date expert opinion

HFHR complained to the ECtHR about the case involving a man who had been held in a psychiatric hospital pursuant to a court order based on an out-of-date expert opinion.

The man was admitted to the hospital in August 2015 and has remained there ever since. The applicant who suffers from serious mental disorders had attacked his parents; the attack had not resulted, however, in any serious injuries.

Criminal proceedings were initiated and the man was subject to a psychiatric examination. The expert witnesses concluded that the applicant had been legally insane at the time his crime was committed, and his mental condition justified his placement in a psychiatric hospital. Based on that opinion, the prosecutor filed a petition with the court to discontinue the proceedings and place the man in a psychiatric hospital.

During the criminal proceedings, both the applicant’s parents and his attorney argued that the man’s condition improved significantly since the psychiatric examination. The applicant started his treatment at a centre that applies modern therapeutic methods, and his illness had been in remission for a long time.

Unfortunately, both the trial and the appeal courts disregarded those arguments and resolved to place the applicant in the psychiatric hospital. It is worth noting that the man had not been subject to another psychiatric examination during the proceedings. Hence, a legal and binding court order was issued on the basis of a psychiatric opinion that had been prepared a year earlier during pre-trial proceedings.

“Under Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights a person of unsound mind may be detained only on the basis of a valid medical opinion”, says Marcin Szwed, an HFHR lawyer. “Polish courts should therefore ask expert witnesses to re-examine the applicant, especially in the light of new evidence which showed that his mental health improved”, adds Mr Szwed.

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