Human rights judges have awarded €10,000 to a Latvian prisoner raped in jail after reporting criminal activity to police.
This is the first time that the Court has underlined that inmates who co-operate with police are particularly vulnerable and exposed to violence in prison.
In a 18 March Chamber judgment in the case J. L. v. Latvia (application no. 23893/06), which is not final, the European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been a:
violation of Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman and degrading treatment – lack of effective investigation) of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The case concerned a prisoner’s complaint that, while serving a three-year-and-nine month prison sentence for misappropriation, the prison authorities refused to investigate his allegation that he had been assaulted and raped by fellow inmates for having co-operated with the police in another criminal case.
The applicant, Mr J.L., is a Latvian national who was born in 1980 and lives in Jēkabpils (Latvia). In November 2005 his wife’s car was stolen and, having reported the theft to the police, he was involved in the arrest of the culprit, G.. In particular, in co-operation with the police, he met G. and gave him money for the stolen car whilst recording their conversation on an audio tape.
G. was subsequently charged with theft and extortion and placed in detention in Rīga Central Prison. Meanwhile, charges had been brought against J.L. for repeated misappropriation. On 4 January 2006 he was found guilty as charged and sentenced to three years and nine months’ imprisonment.
He alleges that, immediately taken to Rīga Central Prison following his conviction, he was assaulted and raped during the night of 5 to 6 January 2006. His nose broken, he was attended to by the prison doctor. No medical report was, however, drawn up and the prison guard refused to launch an investigation into the assault.
In January and February 2006 J.L. reported his allegations both to the national courts during the appeals in his case as well as in a letter to the prosecuting authorities requesting a reduction of his sentence, claiming also that he was continuing to have problems in prison because of his co-operation with the police. In March 2006 he also
informed the prison administrative authorities that he was being threatened and requested his transfer to Matīsa Prison where there was a specialised detention facility.
Following a complaint by J.L. to Latvia’s Bureau for the Protection of Human Rights in August 2006, the prison administrative authorities requested Rīga Central Prison to carry out an investigation. Three out of J.L.’s 11 fellow inmates were questioned: all denied that J.L. had been assaulted.
In the meantime, J.L. was transferred to Jēkabpils Prison. Prior to the transfer, the prison administrative authorities advised the prison to “keep an eye on” him. In a subsequent report, however, the head of the prison noted that J.L.’s file on his arrival had not indicated any need to isolate him from other inmates and, indeed, he had not complained about any subsequent ill-treatment in his establishment.
In order to ensure J.L.’s attendance at G.’s trial, in which he was the victim and main witness, he was transferred on two occasions to Matīsa Prison. In September 2006, the prosecuting authorities had specifically requested that he be transferred to this prison and not Rīga Central Prison where G. had been detained, noting in particular that, according to his criminal case file, he had intimidated J.L.
J.L. was released from prison in June 2007, following a reduction by one year of his sentence because he had reported a serious criminal offence.
Decision of the Court
It was not in dispute that J.L. had cooperated with the police. Despite this, the authorities did not take any particular precautionary measures to which, as a witness and collaborator of justice, he had been entitled either before his transfer to prison (i.e. by the investigators communicating to the prosecutor and prison authorities that J.L. was cooperating with them) or after his alleged assault and rape.
Notably, even though the prison administrative authorities had warned Jēkabpils prison that J.L. might encounter problems in detention, no measures had apparently been taken, showing that protection against further possible abuse had been left to the discretion of the prison officials.
Even though there were no actual medical records to prove that J.L. had been assaulted and raped, the Court noted that J.L. had repeatedly and consistently reported his allegations to the authorities.
The credibility of his allegations was also corroborated by the fact that G. had intimidated him, as acknowledged by the authorities in September 2006 in their request to not transfer J.L. to Rīga Central Prison as G. was being held there.
This information should have been sufficient for the prosecuting authorities to go about applying the relevant domestic legislation in force, namely section 16 § 1 of the Law of the Public Prosecutor’s Office, which provides that they should carry out an inquiry if the rights of detainees have been infringed. However, although the prosecution launched proceedings to reduce J.L.’s sentence, the allegations of ill-treatment were left unexamined.
The prison authorities did carry out an investigation, but it had substantial shortcomings.
The allegation that J.L.’s nose had been broken could easily have been substantiated by an X-ray; no such examination ever took place.
Neither J.L. nor the doctor who examined him after the assault had apparently ever been asked to testify. Nor was it clear whether J.L. had ever been informed of the results of the investigation.
Furthermore, even though there was meant to be a division of responsibilities between the prison administration authorities and each prison establishment, in practice the prison itself carried out investigations of complaints against its officials, which undermined the independence of any investigation.
The Court concluded that there had been a general lack of coordination between the investigators, the prosecution and the detention institutions to prevent ill-treatment of detainees in Latvian prisons, underlining that prisoners who had co-operated with the police by reporting criminal offences were particularly vulnerable and exposed to violence.
It therefore held that the conduct of the authorities and the manner in which they had applied domestic law in response to J.L.’s claims had failed to comply with Latvia’s obligation under the Convention to carry out an effective investigation into any allegation of ill-treatment, in violation of Article 3.
Under Article 41 (just satisfaction), the Court held that Latvia was to pay J.L. 10,000 euros (EUR) in respect of non pecuniary damage.