Monday 20 October 2008

Privacy Rights of Former Torture Suspects

Last week the Court issued its judgments in the two connected cases of Kyriakides v. Cyprus and Taliadorou and Stylianou v. Cyprus. The three applicants in the cases were retired police officers. In 1993 the three men were accused of torturing suspects (Taliadorou and Stylianou) and negligence in failing to stop this (Kyriakides, their superior). They were acquitted during criminal proceedings, since the prosecution failed to convince the judges that there was a prima facie case. However, an independent inquiry commission appointed by the Council of Ministers of Cyprus later found them guilty of the same offences and they were all dismissed by a ministerial decision of 1993. This decision was later quashed by the Supreme Court, since the three had been dismissed without any trial or disciplinary proceedings. What then followed was a judgment by a lower court awarding them compensation for damage to their psychological and moral integrity and reputation (one may indeed understand what the stigma of 'torturer' causes). The Supreme Court then reversed this compensation decision , holding that the moral injury had no causal link with the decision of dismissal.

The applicants mainly complained about a violation of the right to respect for privacy (Article 8 ECHR). They submitted that the last reversal of the Supreme Court had failed to take into account the harm done to their integrity and reputation. The European Court reiterated that such harm indeed fell within the scope of Article 8. It noted, however, the following in para. 56:

The Court also accepts that Article 8 cannot be relied on in order to complain of the damage to an individual’s reputation which is the foreseeable consequence of one’s own actions such as, for example, the commission of a criminal offence. It notes however that the applicants had been acquitted of the offences with which they had been charged and that the domestic court found that there had been no case for the defence to answer.
The European Court held that the Cypriot Supreme Court had failed to sufficiently explain its decision. No assessment of proportionality had been conducted. Thus the domestic courts had overstepped their margin of appreciation and Article 8 had been violated.

The applicants Taliadorou and Stylianou also complained about a violation of Article 6(2) ECHR - the presumption of innocence - but the Court held that the Cypriot Supreme Court's decision on compensation did not undermine their innocence and thus no violation was found on that point.

The judgments shows, as could be expected, that the stigma of torture clearly affects one's right to respect for private life. In addition, the Court clearly established that there is a clear difference in this respect between convicted and acquitted persons. Rightly so, of course.