ECHR slams failure to properly investigate fatal road accident


The European Court of Human Rights has found violation of Article 2 (the right to life) in the Ukrainian authorities’ inadequate investigation into an accident in which a young cyclist was killed.  Nina Zubkova from Kharkiv tried in vain to get the circumstances of her son’s death investigated.  She was represented at the Court in Strasbourg by Mykhailo Tarakhkalo, Head of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union’s Strategic Litigations Centre. 

The case is especially important given the large number of horrific accidents in Ukraine, of which many are caused by people whose relationship to people in high places, or financial resources enable them to avoid any punishment even where they were, for example, drunk and driving very fast.

The Chamber Judgement in the Case of Zubkova v. Ukraine (Application no. 36660/08) was issued on Oct. 17, 2013 and will come into force in three months (unless successfully challenged). 

Nina Zubkova alleged under Article 2 of the Convention that the authorities had failed to carry out an effective investigation of the accident which had caused the death of her son.  Her son, Igor Zubkov died two days after his bike collided with a minibus at a Kharkiv crossroads on May 18, 2002. 

In September that year the criminal investigation into the accident was terminated for lack of corpus delicti in the actions of the minibus driver. The investigator also noted that the accident was caused by the cyclist himself.

This decision was quashed on Oct. 25 by the City Prosecutor’s Office as premature with a number of important aspects of the investigation having been omitted.

The investigators kept terminating the investigation, with the prosecutor quashing these decisions. .  This continued until Dec. 30, 2007 when the investigation was terminated.

Nina Zubkova and her lawyer then challenged that decision in a Kharkiv district court.  That court rejected the complaint however its ruling was overturned by a court of appeal.

“On 24 May 2012 the Kharkiv Regional Court of Appeal quashed the decision of 24 April 2012 and remitted the case to the District Court for a fresh examination. The court of appeal noted in particular, that the conclusions reached by the investigator had not been properly substantiated by the material in the criminal case file and that the District Court had failed to give appropriate reasons for dismissing the applicant’s complaint.

26.  On 11 July 2012 the District Court quashed the decision of 30 December 2007 as unsubstantiated and ordered a further investigation. The District Court specified that during the investigation, it would be necessary to scrutinise the arguments put forward by the applicant, to assess the statements of certain witnesses properly and to carry out another auto-technical expert examination. The parties did not inform the Court whether that decision became final. Nor did they inform the Court about any further steps taken in the investigation.”

The Court in Strasbourg found that there had been a violation of the procedural limb of Article 2 of the Convention.  It awarded 9 thousand EUR in non-pecuniary damages and 500 EUR for costs.


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