Monday 12 January 2009

Police Violence Cases

Last week, the Court issued two judgments on police violence, one concerning Spain, the other concerning Greece. In the Spanish case, Iribarren Pinillos, the applicant had been severely wounded when during a riot the police fired a smoke-bomb at him. When an ambulance arrived he was partly paralysed, had severe burns and had even stopped breathing. It is important in this case that the Court clarifies that many of state duties applicable under the right to life (Article 2) also apply under Article 3 ECHR. Two of the key aspects now clarified as being also applicable under Article 3 are the duty to conduct an investigation and the possibility to obtain compensation (on the national level) for pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages. Thus even violence that was not (potentially) lethal and for which the state was responsible falls under this regime.

It may be noted that the applicant was awarded high compensation for both pecuniary (100,000 euros) and non-pecuniary (40,000 euros) damages. The judgment is available only in French, but a press release in English can be found here. The Court's press service has, by the way, conveniently started to add links to the judgments to its press releases.

The other judgment on police violence is the case of Leonidis v. Greece, the Court found a substantive violation of the right to life. In 2000, the applicant's son had been shot in a chase by the police which went awfully wrong. As in earlier Greek cases (most notably Makaratzis), the Court pointed to the lack of clear guidelines on the use of force in peacetime. Coming as it did so quickly after another shooting by the Greek police last autumn, which caused enormous unrest and even rioting in Greece (see e.g. this report in the Guardian), one may only hope that the country's authorities will now finally take the Court's emphasis on the need for clear rules and proper training at heart.