Judgement: Treatment of mentally disabled in Belgian prisons is “inadequate”

Human rights judges say the care of the mentally disabled in Belgian prisons is “inadequate.”

The criticism came in today’s Chamber judgment in the case of Claes v. Belgium (application no. 43418/09), which is not final. The European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been:

A violation of Article 3 (prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment) of the European Convention on Human Rights, and

A violation of Article 5 §§ 1 and 4 (right to liberty and security and right to have the lawfulness of detention decided speedily).

The court held that Belgium was to pay André Claes 16,000 euros (EUR) in respect of non-pecuniary damage.

The case concerned Claes’ detention for over 15 years in a prison psychiatric wing. He is currently being held in the psychiatric wing of Leuven prison (Belgium) and was first detained in 1978 for the repeated rape of his underage sisters, following a judgment of 2 February 1978 by the Leuven Criminal Court according to which he was not criminally responsible for his actions.

In 1982 he was again detained for sexually assaulting a child. In 1983 the Mental Health Board decided that he should be transferred to a private psychiatric clinic. However, owing to his aggressive behaviour and a further sexual assault, he was returned to the psychiatric wing of Merksplas prison. In 1987, after a period of release on a trial basis, he was arrested for indecent assault and placed in the psychiatric wing of Turnhout prison.

In 1994, following several incidents involving young girls and female care staff in the psychiatric hospital to which the applicant had been admitted, and in the wake of psychologists’ reports describing him as a manipulative and dangerous individual who was not capable of living in society, the Mental Health Board, referring to the Criminal Court judgment of 2 February 1978, ordered the applicant’s return to the psychiatric wing of Merksplas prison.

The court considered that the national authorities had not provided the applicant with adequate care and that he had been subjected to degrading treatment as a result.

The court stressed that a structural problem existed on account of the inability to afford appropriate care to persons with mental disorders who were held in prison owing to the shortage of places in psychiatric facilities elsewhere.

The Court today also found violations of the Convention in the cases of Dufoort v. Belgium (no. 43653/09) and Swennen v. Belgium (no. 53448/10).

More information

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