ECHR: GC Judgment
Continuing obligations after strike-out decision
(No. 44898/10), 05.07.16
On 25 April 1998, the applicant, Viktors Jeronovičs, was arrested on suspicion of having committed aggravated assault. Following his questioning at the police station after his arrest, he complained to the public prosecutor’s office that he had been ill-treated by police officers who had tried to obtain a confession from him. Criminal proceedings were initiated against the police officers for abuse of power. On 27 September 2000, the applicant was found guilty of assault and sentenced to nine years’ imprisonment.
On 19 March 2001, the criminal proceedings against the police officers were discontinued on grounds of insufficient evidence. In 2001, the applicant submitted his application to the ECtHR, but, in February 2009, before the case was considered by the ECtHR, the Latvian government made a unilateral declaration admitting several breaches of the ECHR and agreeing to pay compensation to the applicant. As a result, the ECtHR decided to strike out the case.
In October 2010, the applicant requested the public prosecutor’s office to reopen the criminal proceedings in which he had been convicted and the proceedings concerning his alleged ill-treatment by police officers. In December 2010, a senior prosecutor decided that the cases could not be reopened under the Criminal Procedure Law and rejected his request. The applicant, therefore, complained to the ECtHR that the public prosecutor’s refusal to reopen the two sets of criminal proceedings had deprived him of any remedy in respect of his allegation under Art. 3 and Art.13 ECHR.
The Grand Chamber of the ECtHR held that the decision to strike out did not extinguish the Government’s continuing procedural obligation to conduct an effective investigation into a violation of Art. 3 ECHR. Compensation and acknowledgement of a violation did not discharge the procedural obligation because otherwise those who committed ill-treatment would enjoy impunity. For the most fundamental ECHR breaches, the unilateral declaration procedure should not be used to allow a government to escape responsibility.
The ECtHR did not consider the prosecutor’s refusal to reopen the criminal proceedings which led to the applicant’s conviction as this complaint had previously been declared inadmissible by the lower chamber. The ECtHR made clear that national legal obstacles cannot be used to avoid the continuing obligation to investigate ill-treatment, otherwise the general prohibition on torture would be ineffective.
This case provides useful guidance on unilateral declarations. The Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, as a third-party intervener, pointed out that the measures proposed by governments in their unilateral declarations often did not fully redress the violations. It is now clear that governments cannot use declarations to prescribe their own procedural obligations. They must discharge their full duties under the ECHR regardless of the terms of their declaration (for more information on unilateral declarations, see https://ehrac.wpengine.com/Evl7e).