Kaprykowski v. Poland |2009

Improvements to prison healthcare after inmate with epilepsy denied proper treatment

. . . the detention of a person who is ill may raise issues under Article 3 of the Convention.

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, February 2009


Robert Kaprykowski has had severe epilepsy since 1996. He has daily seizures and several other disorders that affect how his brain functions. 

Between 1998 and 2007, Robert was in and out of prison. He claimed that he was not given proper medical treatment during his time there. 

Throughout Robert’s time in prison, doctors warned that he needed specialist treatment and constant care, without which his health and life were at risk. 

Robert was put in a general wing of the prison, not the medical wing. He shared cells with healthy prisoners, who, he said, ignored his seizures and did not offer to help him. Robert often felt humiliated because he lost consciousness and wet himself whilst having a seizure. He also struggled to access the medicine he needed. 

Robert complained to the prison authorities, but nothing ever happened. 

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights

The European court ruled that Robert suffered ill-treatment in prison because the Polish authorities did not provide him with proper medical care.

[Robert] must have known that he risked at any moment a medical emergency with very serious results and that most of the time no immediate medical assistance was available.

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, February 2009


Following the European court’s judgment in Robert’s case, Poland made substantial improvements to prison healthcare: 

  • In 2012, new rules were introduced which determined what medical services should be available in prisons, as well as rules for how public and prison healthcare facilities should cooperate for inmates.
  • In 2016, the Polish government set up a specialist team to help modernise the prison system, including its healthcare. 
  • Improvements were made to sanitary and living conditions in places of detention, including the removal of barriers for disabled inmates. 
  • Professional training was provided for medical staff within the prison system. 

By the time the European court had made its judgment in Robert’s case, Poland’s highest court had recognised people’s right to claim compensation if they thought their rights were violated by their conditions of detention or inadequate healthcare.