Poland: MDAC intervenes at European Court to uphold right to liberty

The European Court of Human Rights is currently examining the case of a young Polish man who was forcibly detained and treated in a psychiatric hospital against his will. The court found that, because of his mental health issue, he was not guilty of an alleged assault. He started treatment and experts testified that his health had improved. However, the court decided to lock him up anyway. MDAC has submitted legal arguments to the ECtHR supporting his right to liberty and freedom from forced treatment.

 

One of the buildings of Dr Józef Babinski Specialised Hospital in Cracow, Poland. © Agencja Gazeta

 

In January 2014, M., a Polish man in his late twenties, was charged with physically assaulting his parents. Two psychiatrists and a psychologist examined M. They concluded that he had a paranoid schizophrenic delusional disorder and could not participate in the criminal proceedings against him. Nevertheless, M. volunteered to start therapy at a therapeutic centre for young people with schizophrenia in Gdansk. His mental health improved significantly and he even found a job.

A year later, based on these expert opinions, the criminal court decided that M.  was not criminally responsible for his acts at the time of the assault. Despite this finding and his improved health, the court ordered him to be placed and treated in a closed psychiatric hospital to prevent him committing similar acts in the future. Both the staff and director of the therapeutic centre in Gdansk testified to the court that this order was not necessary but in August 2015, M. was placed in a psychiatric hospital in Cracow. He had to stay there for 16 months. In November 2016, he was finally released from the hospital and allowed to continue his outpatient therapy in Gdansk.   

When courts in Poland refused to listen to M.’s appeals against his detention, he took his case, with the help of lawyers at the Polish Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg, France. He argues that the order to lock him up violated his right to liberty: experts agreed that hospitalisation in a closed psychiatric facility was not necessary and the outpatient therapy had improved his mental health already.

In its intervention, MDAC underlines that such treatment violates Poland’s obligations under international law. Detention in circumstances where a person has been found not criminally responsible constitutes disability-based discrimination. Poland must ensure that persons with disabilities are not deprived of their liberty on the basis of their disability, including in the criminal law context. MDAC’s submission to the ECtHR emphasises that forced psychiatric treatment is not only in violation of the right to freedom from torture and ill-treatment, but also of the rights to personal integrity, freedom from violence, exploitation and abuse, and the right to decide about medical treatment.

MDAC argues that community-based services offering consensual and rehabilitation-focused treatment are essential for people with disabilities, including people who come into contact with the criminal justice system. States need to ensure that people with psychosocial disabilities have access to a range of supports and services in the community instead of forcing hospitalisation under an out-dated, medical model of mental health. The provision of genuine alternatives to compulsory treatment allows those with psychosocial disabilities to enjoy their human rights on an equal basis with others.

Barbara Méhes, MDAC Lawyer, noted: “MDAC encourages the European Court to uphold the most basic guarantee of individual freedom and promote the convergence of international standards in relation to the right to liberty and autonomy by requiring strict adherence by States party to the European Convention on Human Rights to the requirement of the principle of least restriction and resort to alternatives to forced detention.”

MDAC would like to thank Aswini Weereratne QC and Sophy Miles from Doughty Street Chambers, London for assiting MDAC with the intervention.

 

 

 

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