Family members of a drug addict who died in prison, have been awarded €71,000 after human rights judges declared Greece’s inquiry was “ineffective.”
In today’s Chamber judgment1 in the case of Patsaki and Others v. Greece (application no. 20444/14) the European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been:
a violation of Article 2 (right to life) of the European Convention on Human Rights under its procedural limb (investigation), and no violation of Article 2 under its substantive limb.
The application was lodged by eight members of the deceased’s (D.V) family (his wife, daughter, mother, father and four brothers).
Under Article 41 (just satisfaction), the court held that Greece was to pay D.V.’s wife and daughter 15,000 euros (EUR) each and EUR 13,000 each to his mother and two of his brothers in respect of non-pecuniary damage.
It also held that Greece was to pay EUR 2,000 in respect of costs and expenses.
In May 2008, D.V. was convicted of theft and the destruction of property belonging to another, and sentenced to eight months’ imprisonment. While he was detained in Heraklion Prison a doctor prescribed him a course of psychotropic drugs.
In September 2008 he was transferred to the prison on the island of Chios.
On 2 November 2008, the prison doctor increased the dose that had been previously prescribed from 10 to 16 tablets per day.
On 7 November 2008, D.V. and other prisoners began a hunger strike in protest at the poor conditions prevailing in the prison. On the same day D.V. went to see the deputy governor of the prison to inform her of drug-trafficking in the prison. She did not act on the information immediately, considering that that it was late in the day and that there were not many officers in the prison. On the next day she ordered a search, which failed to uncover any drugs in the prison.
On 8 November 2008, the prison informed the applicants that D.V. had been found dead in his cell.
An autopsy revealed that the death had been caused by an oedema and a pulmonary haemorrhage resulting from the consumption of psychotropic substances. A few days later two of D.V.’s brothers lodged a complaint against persons unknown.
In June 2009, D.V.’s wife and mother requested the prosecution of any individual responsible for D.V.’s death.
On 31 January 2011, the prosecutor discontinued the case on the grounds, in particular, that D.V.’s use of narcotic drugs in prison was not sufficient to establish criminally punishable conduct by the prison staff and that the pain-killers and anti-depressants would have been sufficient to cause D.V.’s death given that he took all his tablets at once in the evening.
On 15 July 2013, following an appeal by the applicants, the prosecutor remitted the case of the prison governor and prison doctor for trial on charges of manslaughter committed by persons with particular legal obligations.
On 5 September 2013 the criminal court acquitted the defendants. The court found that the doctor could not have foreseen that D.V. would consume alcohol and narcotic drugs at the same time as the psychotropic medicines. Furthermore, it sent the case back for an examination of whether proceedings should be brought against the prison’s deputy governor, who had not taken steps to verify information that drugs were being trafficked within the prison, one recipient of which was D.V.
The prosecutor discontinued the case without giving reasons.
In its decision, the European court considered that the part of the application submitted by the deceased’s father and two of his brothers was inadmissible.
As regards the other applicants’ complaint, the court ruled in particular that the length of the judicial investigation (four years and eight months) had breached the requirements of diligence and promptness for an effective investigation.
It also held that the authorities had neither closely examined the deceased’s case nor conducted an effective investigation into the circumstances of the death.
For instance, the criminal court had not summoned people whose statements could have been decisive for the outcome of the case, and the preliminary inquiry concerning the deputy governor of the prison had been discontinued without any reasons or procedural steps.
Lastly, the Court found that the circumstances of the death did not clearly point to any State responsibility.