Landmark Grand Chamber judgment finds child with disabilities was unlawfully detained and subjected to inhuman treatment by Russia

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Russia subjected a 12-year-old boy with physical and mental disabilities to inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, denied his right of access to justice, and unlawfully detained him.  In the case of Blohkin v. Russia the Grand Chamber has held, unanimously, that there has been a violation of Articles 3 and 5(1) of the Convention.  It also found by a majority (11 votes to 6) that there has been a violation of Article 6(1) and (3)(c) and (d) of the Convention.


The case concerned the detention for 30 days of a 12-year old boy, who was suffering from a mental and neurobehavioural disorder, in a temporary detention centre for juvenile offenders.  The Grand Chamber has found that he had not received adequate medical care for his condition at the temporary detention centre, in violation of Article 3. His placement in the centre could not be justified under Article 5(1)(d), as “detention of a minor by lawful order for the purpose of educational supervision”, since it had not served an educational purpose. Instead, the domestic courts deciding on his placement had referred to “behaviour correction” and the need to prevent the boy from committing further delinquent acts, neither of which was a valid ground covered by Article 5(1)(d).


The Grand Chamber agreed with the earlier Chamber judgment in the case that the proceedings concerning the boy’s placement in the temporary detention centre were to be considered criminal proceedings for the purpose of Article 6, despite the fact that they had not been classified as criminal under Russian law. The domestic courts had however referred to the allegation that the boy had committed a delinquent act as the main reason for his placement in the detention centre.  A majority found that his defence rights had been violated because he had been questioned by the police without legal assistance and the statements of two witnesses whom he was unable to question had served as a basis for his placement in temporary detention.  The Grand Chamber of the Court emphasised that it was essential for adequate procedural safeguards to be in place to protect the best interest and well-being of a child when his or her liberty was at stake. Children with disabilities might moreover require additional safeguards to ensure that they were sufficiently protected.


Renowned and expert international charity the Mental Disability Advocacy Centre (MDAC) was granted permission to intervene in the case by the Grand Chamber.  The intervention drew to the Court’s attention international standards on the issues of (i) access to justice and (ii) detention of children with disabilities, and highlighted the ‘double disadvantage’ faced by children with disabilities in criminal justice systems – both as children, and as individuals with disabilities.  These children  are particularly vulnerable to violations of their rights and have additional needs which need to be protected through stringent and effective safeguards.  MDAC submitted that both the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) should inform how the Court interprets the principles of equality and non-discrimination when it decides cases affecting the rights of children with disabilities.  MDAC’s intervention is referred to by the Grand Chamber throughout its judgment and its submissions were central to the Court’s key findings.


Doughty Street barristers Caoilfhionn Gallagher and Louise Price acted for MDAC in this case, with Paul Bowen QC of Brick Court Chambers.  The Executive Director of MDAC is Oliver Lewis, an associate tenant at Doughty Street Chambers.


Further information is available in MDAC’s press release.


MDAC’s written submissions are available here and the Grand Chamber judgment is available here.

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