Failure to Conduct an Effective Investigation and Article 2 Inquests: New Case Law

The case of Prizreni v. Albania (application no. 29309/16) heard in the European Court of Human Right adds weight to the argument that where there is a lack of an effective investigation by the state, article 2 is engaged. Mark Pritchard explains the latest development.

Mark Pritchard

When a person suffers the loss of a family member they will, under the current legal aid regime, find it difficult to secure legal aid. If the coroner finds that article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the right to life) is engaged, or the inquest is of wider public interest legal aid can be granted.

The case

In February 2011, the applicant’s brother, was transferred from Lezhë detention facility to a hospital. The applicant went to visit his brother on 22 February 2011, but found that he had died that day. It appears from the hospital file that his brother had been diagnosed with elephantiasis, morbid obesity and multi-organ insufficiency, and had been prescribed medication.

The authorities began to investigate the death on the day he passed away, carrying out an on-site examination and later questioning hospital doctors.

The doctors stated that he had been treated like any other patient and given treatment in accordance with the rules. The applicant told investigators that during an earlier visit he had found his brother unconscious and tied to the bed with sheets.

A post-mortem forensic report found no trace of medication in the deceased blood, noted bruising on both forearms and gave the cause of death as acute cardio-respiratory insufficiency. It left the question of any negligent medical treatment to another forensic medical commission.

The Tirana prosecutor’s office decided in April 2011 against bringing criminal proceedings, citing the forensic report and the fact that it had found no evidence of an offence. The applicant complained about that decision but his case was rejected at all levels, including the Constitutional Court in 2015.

The Judgment

The European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been: a violation of the procedural limb of Article 2 (right to life) of the European Convention on Human Rights owing to the lack of an effective investigation into the applicant’s brother’s death in hospital, and, no violation of the substantive limb of Article 3 (prohibition of torture), and, a violation of the procedural limb of Article 3 (prohibition of torture) owing to the lack of a proper investigation into the applicant’s arguable claims that his brother had been ill-treated.

The implications

The state has a duty to properly investigate deaths. This duty becomes all the more vital when the death occurs of a person in the custody of the state.

Where there are clear failures in investigations by the NHS, IPCC, Prisons and Probation Ombudsman and there will be a strong argument that article 2 is engaged, this case will add weight to such submissions.

Central Chambers has a team of practitioners who have appeared in and are specialists in inquests and related proceedings. We are soon to relaunch our inquest team and will likely begin providing training events in relation to such work.

If you would like to instruct Mark Pritchard or any member of the inquests or criminal team, please do not hesitate to contact our clerks by clicking here or calling on 0161 236 1133.