European Court Finds Use of Restraints Constitutes Inhuman and Degrading Treatment
Budapest and Brno. The European Court of Human Rights yesterday issued a landmark judgment distinguishing treatment from torture in a case involving use of restraints on a person with a psycho-social disability, Bureš v. Czech Republic. MDAC represented the applicant in both domestic proceedings and at the ECtHR.
Lukáš Bureš was 22 years old in February 2007 when he accidently overdosed on medication prescribed by a psychiatrist.
He was brought by the police to a sobering up center, where he was immediately strapped with restraining belts to a bed, although he was not presenting a danger of any kind. How long he remained in the restraints is disputed between Mr. Bureš and the government but what is not disputed is that he spent at least three hours during the night in restraints, resulting in physical injuries. Once he was out of the hospital, Mr. Bureš brought criminal charges for the ill-treatment he had suffered. Despite clear evidence that there was no justification for the use of restraints, the public prosecutor decided not to prosecute and no one was held accountable.
The Court unanimously held that both the application of restraints and the State’s failure to take measures to prevent torture and ill-treatment violated Article of the European Convention on Human Rights. In a strongly-worded rebuke to the government, the Court stated that, “The Court considers that using restraints is a serious measure which must always be justified by preventing imminent harm to the patient or the surroundings and must be proportionate to such an aim. Mere restlessness cannot therefore justify strapping a person to a bed for almost two hours.” The Court further observed that no alternatives to restraint had even been attempted, and that “Strapping was applied as a matter of routine.”
The Court had equally strong criticism for the prosecutor’s decision to end the criminal investigation on the basis that no crime had been committed, holding that this violated the State’s obligation to provide practical and effective protection of the rights guaranteed under Article 3 of the ECHR, particularly in light of its finding that “the application of restraining belts on the applicant was a willful act constituting inhuman and degrading treatment. “
The Court awarded Mr. Bureš 20,000 euros for the violations of his rights and the psychological and physical pain he suffered.
The ECtHR’s condemnation of the Czech Republic’s use of restraints comes only months after the United Nations Committee Against Torture indicated its concern about “reports of frequent placement of persons with intellectual or psychosocial disabilities in social, medical and psychiatric institutions without their informed and free consent; the continued use of cage-beds, despite the prohibition in law, and of net-beds as well as the use of other restraint measures such as bed strapping, manacles, and solitary confinement, often in unhygienic conditions and with physical neglect” and called on the Czech government to “ensure the effective monitoring and independent assessment of the conditions in institutions, … establish a complaints mechanism, ensure counsel and provide training to medical and non-medical staff on how to administer non-violent and non-coercive care” and recommended that all cases of ill-treatment and be effectively investigated and prosecuted and redress provided to the victims and their families, including compensation and rehabilitation.
The Czech government must take immediate measures to protect people with disabilities from torture and ill-treatment in all settings and to fulfill its obligation under the ECHR, the UN Convention Against Torture and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
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