European Court of Human Rights finds against Ukraine over conditions of detention


On 19 October 2006 the European Court of Human Rights issued its Chamber judgment1 in the case of Koval v. Ukraine .  It found that there had been a violation of Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) of the European Convention on Human Rights concerning the lack of available medical treatment and the applicant’s detention conditions, as well as of Article 13 (right to an effective remedy) of the Convention

It rejected the applicant’s claim that his right under Article 6 § 1 to a trial within a reasonable time had been violated.

Vasyl Koval was awarded an overall sum of 6,000 Euros for pecuniary and non-pecuniary damage, and for costs and expenses.

Vasyl Koval, an ambassador, was detained in November 1997 on suspicion of having committed forgery while a public official.  In December 1997 he was transferred to Zhytomyr Regional Investigative Isolation Unit (SIZO), where he was medically examined and diagnosed with a number of serious health problems.

On 29 June 1998 he was released on bail – after his wife paid 500,000 UH (equivalent to about 196,900 euros) – on the grounds that it was impossible to provide him with the medical treatment he needed.

He was subsequently taken back into detention, after being found guilty of trying to influence a witness, and the bail was confiscated.

By November 1998, the applicant, who had repeatedly complained about the conditions he was being held in and their effect on his health, was found to be suffering from critical second-degree idiopathic hypertension, second-degree cardiosclerosis and ischaemic heart disease. On 30 November 1998 he was hospitalised with acute hypertension.

Vasyl Koval was eventually sentenced to four years imprisonment for abuse of his public office and his property was confiscated.

Vasyl Koval had alleged violations of Articles 3, 13 and 6 of the Convention.  He complained about the conditions of his detention and that he did not receive proper medical treatment and assistance from 30 November 1998 until 8 June 2000. He also complained that the proceedings concerning the forfeiture of bail had been unfair.

The Court in its judgment noted that the Ukrainian Government had not contested the complaints regarding the conditions of detention. It concluded that the conditions had been unacceptable, and that judging by the medical reports submitted, his health had significantly deteriorated, these constituting grounds for qualifying his treatment as inhuman and degrading.

The Court found also that the Government had failed to demonstrate what reasonable measures domestic courts and other State authorities could have applied in the case of Vasyl Koval, given the economic difficulties faced by the prison authorities, and therefore concluded that there had been a violation of Article 13 due to the lack of an effective and accessible remedy under domestic law.

It is significant that the Court pointed out that the problems over Koval’s detention were of a structural nature and not confined to his case alone.

Vasyl Koval’s allegations of violation of Article 6 had revolved around the forfeiture of bail, whether his wife’s witness statements had been examined by domestic courts and whether he had been given reasonable time to prepare his defence over this. The Court rejected these claims, finding that there had been sufficient court review, and that Koval had had enough time to present his case.

(Halya Coynash)

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