Last Updated on February 6, 2024 by LawEuro
European Court of Human Rights
CASE OF M.P. v. LITHUANIA
(Application no. 59063/21)
6 February 2024
This judgment is final but it may be subject to editorial revision.
In the case of M.P. v. Lithuania,
The European Court of Human Rights (Second Section), sitting as a Committee composed of:
Pauliine Koskelo, President,
Frédéric Krenc, judges,
and Dorothee von Arnim, Deputy Section Registrar,
Having regard to:
the application (no. 59063/21) against the Republic of Lithuania lodged with the Court under Article 34 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (“the Convention”) on 18 November 2021 by a Lithuanian national, M.P., who was born in 2002 and lives in Vilnius (“the applicant”);
the decision to give notice of the complaints concerning Article 3 and Article 5 § 1 of the Convention to the Lithuanian Government (“the Government”), represented by their Agent, Ms K. Bubnytė-Širmenė, and to declare the remainder of the application inadmissible;
the decision not to have the applicant’s name disclosed;
the parties’ observations;
Having deliberated in private on 16 January 2024,
Delivers the following judgment, which was adopted on that date:
SUBJECT MATTER OF THE CASE
1. The case concerns the applicant’s pre-trial detention, his involuntary psychiatric hospitalisation and his allegations of ill-treatment while in detention.
2. During January and February 2019 the applicant was hospitalised at a psychiatric facility and diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. He was subsequently prescribed medication and it was recommended that he undergo outpatient psychiatric treatment.
3. In April 2020 the applicant was arrested on suspicion of several counts of theft and disturbance of public order. A pre-trial investigation was opened.
4. On 24 April 2020 the Vilnius District Court ordered that the applicant wear an electronic monitoring device and prohibited him from leaving his home during certain hours. However, he breached those conditions and on 4 May 2020 the court authorised his pre-trial detention for one month. He was placed in Pravieniškės Correctional Facility. On 27 May 2020 the court extended his pre-trial detention for another month. The applicant appealed against that decision, but his appeal was dismissed by the Vilnius Regional Court on 16 June 2020.
5. During the pre-trial investigation, a court-appointed psychiatrist reviewed the applicant’s medical documents and recommended that he undergo a forensic psychiatric assessment.
6. The forensic psychiatric assessment was carried out between 15 and 17 June 2020. It concluded that, owing to his mental illness, the applicant had been unable to understand and control his actions at the time when the alleged criminal offences had been committed and that he remained unable to do so at the time of the assessment. It was recommended that the applicant be admitted to a psychiatric hospital.
7. Relying on the conclusions of the psychiatric assessment, on 19 June 2020 the Vilnius District Court amended the remand measure imposed on the applicant and ordered his psychiatric hospitalisation for three months, under Article 141 § 2 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. The applicant did not appeal against that decision. On 2 July 2020 he was admitted to Rokiškis Psychiatric Hospital.
8. On 1 October 2020 the Vilnius District Court held a hearing in the criminal case against the applicant, in which it sought to determine, inter alia, whether to extend his detention in hospital. The applicant was not called to attend the hearing, but he was represented by a lawyer. His lawyer and his mother asked the court not to extend his detention. They submitted that the applicant’s condition had improved, that his involuntary hospitalisation was affecting him negatively and that outpatient treatment would be more appropriate. The court also heard the expert who had carried out the forensic psychiatric assessment (see paragraph 6 above), and who reiterated the findings of that assessment and submitted that the applicant should remain in hospital. The court extended his detention in hospital for a further three months.
9. The applicant and his mother appealed against that decision, arguing that hospitalisation should be replaced by outpatient treatment. However, on 23 October 2020 the Vilnius Regional Court dismissed their appeals, finding that they had not provided any evidence to show that outpatient treatment would be sufficient in view of the applicant’s condition. The court also noted that if at any later stage it received documents from the hospital showing that the applicant’s condition had improved, his detention in hospital could be terminated before the three-month time-limit.
10. On 9 November 2020 the Vilnius District Court held another hearing in the criminal case. The applicant was not called to attend, but he was represented by a lawyer. The court heard the psychiatrist who was treating the applicant at Rokiškis Psychiatric Hospital. The psychiatrist stated that it was not within her remit to answer the question of whether or not hospitalisation should be replaced with outpatient treatment. However, she emphasised that it was important for the applicant to continue taking his medication, but that at that time he was still unable to do so independently, and required an appropriate environment for the treatment to continue. The psychiatrist further stated that the applicant’s condition had not changed significantly since his admission.
11. On 14 December 2020 the Vilnius District Court found that the applicant had committed the criminal offences of which he had been accused (see paragraph 3 above), but that he had done so while being unable to understand and control his actions. The court held that the applicant posed a risk to the public and that the findings of the forensic psychiatric assessment and the testimonies given by the expert and the psychiatrist who was treating him (see paragraphs 6, 8 and 10 above) showed that his continued detention in hospital was necessary. It ordered that he should undergo compulsory inpatient treatment at a psychiatric hospital, as provided in Article 98 § 1 (2) of the Criminal Code.
12. The applicant and his mother appealed against that decision and asked that he be allowed to follow outpatient psychiatric treatment. They submitted that his mental health had improved, and that his involuntary hospitalisation was negatively affecting his social life, education and physical health. However, on 16 March 2021 the Vilnius Regional Court dismissed the appeals. It found that the first-instance court had correctly assessed the applicant’s mental condition and the risk which he posed to the public, and moreover, that the hospital provided adequate conditions for him to study, socialise and undergo necessary medical treatment. The applicant did not lodge an appeal on points of law with the Supreme Court.
13. Article 98 § 6 of the Criminal Code provides that when a court orders compulsory medical treatment, such treatment is not subject to a time-limit but must be continued until the person’s mental state improves and he or she no longer poses a threat to others. At least once every six months, the court must decide, on the basis of a report by the healthcare establishment, whether the compulsory treatment should be extended, discontinued or changed (see D.R. v. Lithuania, no. 691/15, § 46, 26 June 2018).
14. On 12 August 2021 a commission composed of three psychiatric experts assessed the applicant’s mental condition and found that it had improved sufficiently for him to follow outpatient treatment. On those grounds, the administration of Rokiškis Psychiatric Hospital applied to the court for an order discontinuing the involuntary hospitalisation. On 6 September 2021 the Panevėžys District Court allowed that request and made an order replacing the applicant’s involuntary hospitalisation with an obligation for him to undergo outpatient psychiatric treatment. He was discharged from hospital on 21 September 2021.
15. On 2 April 2022 the applicant lodged a complaint with the police, alleging that on 24 June 2020 he had been assaulted by officers of Pravieniškės Correctional Facility. He stated that he would not be able to recognise the officers in question and that he had not told anyone about the ill-treatment at the time. On 14 April 2022 the Prisons Department refused to open a pre-trial investigation, on the grounds that there was no evidence that the alleged ill-treatment had taken place: the medical documents obtained from the prison and from Rokiškis Psychiatric Hospital did not contain any record showing that the applicant might have sustained any injuries at the relevant time.
16. The applicant lodged complaints against that decision with the prosecutor and the Kaunas District Court, but they were dismissed. The decision of the Kaunas District Court indicated that an appeal against it could be lodged with the Kaunas Regional Court, but the applicant did not lodge such an appeal.
17. The applicant complained under Article 5 § 1 of the Convention that his involuntary psychiatric hospitalisation had not been justified by his mental condition after 16 March 2021. He also complained under the same provision that his pre-trial detention at Pravieniškės Correctional Facility had been unlawful because that facility had not been suitable for his mental condition. Lastly, he complained under Article 3 of the Convention that he had been ill-treated while in detention.
THE COURT’S ASSESSMENT
I. ALLEGED VIOLATION OF ARTICLE 5 § 1 OF THE CONVENTION REGARDING INVOLUNTARY PSYCHIATRIC HOSPITALISATION
18. The Government submitted that the applicant had failed to exhaust domestic remedies because he had not lodged an appeal on points of law with the Supreme Court in the proceedings concerning his hospitalisation (see paragraph 12 above). However, the Court observes that in his submissions the applicant did not complain about the initial decisions to admit him to hospital but argued that his hospitalisation had no longer been justified after 16 March 2021. The Government did not suggest that, had he lodged an appeal on points of law, the Supreme Court might have ordered a fresh assessment of his mental condition after the latter date. Therefore, the fact that he did not lodge an appeal on points of law against those initial decisions has no bearing on the admissibility of his complaint. Accordingly, the Government’s objection must be dismissed.
19. The Court further notes that this complaint is neither manifestly ill-founded nor inadmissible on any other grounds. It must therefore be declared admissible.
20. The relevant general principles concerning the deprivation of liberty of persons of unsound mind under Article 5 § 1 (e) of the Convention have been summarised in Ilnseher v. Germany ([GC], nos. 10211/12 and 27505/14, §§ 127-34, 4 December 2018, and the cases cited therein).
21. The applicant did not complain that, at the time when his involuntary psychiatric hospitalisation was ordered by the decisions of the Vilnius District Court of 14 December 2020 and the Vilnius Regional Court of 16 March 2021, he had not been reliably shown to be of unsound mind or that his mental disorder had not been of a kind or degree warranting compulsory confinement (compare ibid., § 127). The Court agrees that the applicant was established to be “of unsound mind” for the purposes of Article 5 § 1 (e) at the time of the Regional Court’s decision. Instead, the applicant complained that such a disorder had no longer persisted after 16 March 2021.
22. In accordance with domestic law (see paragraph 13 above), the necessity of the applicant’s hospitalisation was reviewed on 6 September 2021 on the basis of a fresh expert assessment of his mental condition (see paragraph 14 above), that is less than six months after the final court decision ordering his hospitalisation to continue. The Court observes that neither the applicant himself, who was represented by a lawyer, nor his mother, who had participated in the domestic proceedings, asked the court to carry out such a review sooner. Moreover, the applicant did not provide the Court with any information capable of indicating that the improvement of his mental condition had occurred significantly earlier than 6 September 2021 (compare and contrast D.R. v. Lithuania, cited above, § 93). In such circumstances, the Court is satisfied that until that date the applicant’s hospitalisation was justified by his mental condition. Furthermore, the applicant’s detention, based on Article 98 § 1 (2) of the Criminal Code, was in accordance with domestic law. Therefore, there has been no violation of Article 5 § 1 of the Convention with regard to the period from 16 March to 6 September 2021.
23. On 6 September 2021 the Panevėžys District Court ended the applicant’s involuntary hospitalisation, endorsing the finding made on 12 August 2021 by a commission of psychiatric experts that the applicant’s condition had improved sufficiently for him to follow outpatient psychiatric treatment. However, the applicant remained in hospital for another fifteen days, until 21 September 2021. No explanation for that delay was provided either in the domestic proceedings or in the proceedings before the Court. In this connection, the Court reiterates that some delay in implementing a decision to release a detainee is understandable, and often inevitable, in view of practical considerations relating to the running of the courts and the observance of particular formalities. However, the national authorities must attempt to keep this to a minimum (see Ruslan Yakovenko v. Ukraine, no. 5425/11, § 68, ECHR 2015, with further references). A continued deprivation of liberty cannot be justified by purely administrative reasons (see R.L. and M.-J.D. v. France, no. 44568/98, § 128, 19 May 2004).
24. Accordingly, the Court finds that it has not been demonstrated that the applicant’s involuntary hospitalisation from 6 to 21 September 2021 was justified by his mental condition. Therefore, there has been a violation of Article 5 § 1 of the Convention with regard to that period.
II. OTHER COMPLAINTS
25. The applicant also complained under Article 3 of the Convention that he had been ill-treated by the staff of Pravieniškės Correctional Facility. The Government submitted that he had failed to exhaust domestic remedies because he had not appealed against the decision of the Kaunas District Court to a higher court (see paragraph 16 above). The applicant did not dispute that submission. Accordingly, this complaint must be rejected for failure to exhaust domestic remedies, pursuant to Article 35 §§ 1 and 4 of the Convention.
26. Lastly, the applicant complained under Article 5 § 1 of the Convention that his pre-trial detention at Pravieniškės Correctional Facility had been unlawful because that facility was not appropriate in view of his mental illness. However, the final decision concerning the applicant’s detention in that facility was taken on 16 June 2020 (see paragraph 4 above), whereas the present application was lodged with the Court on 18 November 2021, that is, more than six months later. It follows that this complaint has been lodged out of time and must be rejected in accordance with Article 35 §§ 1 and 4 of the Convention.
APPLICATION OF ARTICLE 41 OF THE CONVENTION
27. The applicant claimed 10,000 euros (EUR) in respect of non-pecuniary damage.
28. The Government submitted that the claim was excessive.
29. The Court, making its award on an equitable basis, awards the applicant EUR 5,000 in respect of non-pecuniary damage, plus any tax that may be chargeable.
FOR THESE REASONS, THE COURT, UNANIMOUSLY,
1. Declares the complaint under Article 5 § 1 of the Convention concerning the applicant’s involuntary psychiatric hospitalisation admissible and the remainder of the application inadmissible;
2. Holds that there has been no violation of Article 5 § 1 of the Convention with regard to the applicant’s involuntary hospitalisation from 16 March to 6 September 2021;
3. Holds that there has been a violation of Article 5 § 1 of the Convention with regard to the applicant’s involuntary hospitalisation from 6 to 21 September 2021;
(a) that the respondent State is to pay the applicant, within three months, EUR 5,000 (five thousand euros), plus any tax that may be chargeable, in respect of non-pecuniary damage;
(b) that from the expiry of the above-mentioned three months until settlement simple interest shall be payable on the above amount at a rate equal to the marginal lending rate of the European Central Bank during the default period plus three percentage points;
5. Dismisses the remainder of the applicant’s claim for just satisfaction.
Done in English, and notified in writing on 6 February 2024, pursuant to Rule 77 §§ 2 and 3 of the Rules of Court.
Dorothee von Arnim Pauliine Koskelo
Deputy Registrar President