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Man given 3 months’ detention for a crime he didn’t commit - and reforms to protect the right to liberty

I. I. v. Bulgaria  | 2005

Man given 3 months’ detention for a crime he didn’t commit - and reforms to protect the right to liberty

… his joints swelled, he started feeling pain in his ankles, and could not move the fingers of his right hand.

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights

Background

I.I. was charged with a crime that he did not commit and put in pre-trial detention. The court which ordered his detention refused to examine the substance of the case, as it failed to examine issues related to the sufficiency of evidence against the applicant.

I.I.’s detention facility was overcrowded, and his damp, underground cell had no access to sunlight or fresh air. He slept on a wooden plank in a 6m2 cell that he shared with two or three other detainees. There was no proper shower or toilet and he had to relieve himself in a bucket in front of his cellmates. I.I. also had a skin condition which required good hygiene and exposure to sunlight. His condition became much worse and he also developed eczema and arthritis. Nevertheless, he was refused proper access to his medication. 

After three months, the case against I. I. was dropped and he was released. 

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights

The European court ruled that the decision to put I.I. in detention had been taken without examining whether the evidence against him was sufficient, or the other relevant arguments about whether he should be deprived of his liberty. The process had also not been properly independent and impartial. Finally, the prison conditions in which I.I. had been kept had been inadequate.

This breached his basic rights. 

Follow-up

I.I. was paid 4,000 euros in compensation.

As a result of a series of similar cases, the law was changed in Bulgaria to protect the right to liberty. Major changes to the Code of Criminal Procedure meant that pre-trial detention is only allowed when there is a real danger of the accused absconding or re-offending. The accused also has the right to have their pre-trial detention reviewed by an independent judge within 72 hours.