J.L. v. Latvia

European Court of Human Rights
17 April 2012


The applicant, Mr. L., alleged that, after he gave evidence for the prosecution in proceedings against another prisoner, he was physically and sexually assaulted by fellow inmates. However, according to the applicant, the prison doctor who rendered him medical assistance refused to draw up a medical report and a prison guard refused to initiate an investigation into the assault.


The applicant complained that the prison staff had refused to investigate the physical ill-treatment to which he had been subjected by fellow inmates in violation of Article 3 of the Convention.

Court's ruling

The Court reiterated that state has positive obligations to ensure that individuals within their jurisdiction are protected against all forms of ill-treatment prohibited under Article 3, including where such treatment is administered by private individuals. This obligation should include effective protection of the individual or individuals from the criminal acts of a third party, as well as reasonable steps to prevent ill-treatment of which the authorities knew or ought to have known. This includes an obligation to carry out an effective investigation in response to an arguable claim of ill-treatment.

The investigation should be independent, impartial, prompt and subject to public scrutiny. The investigation is to be considered effective if the authorities had taken reasonable steps to secure the evidence concerning the incident, including, a detailed statement concerning the allegations from the alleged victim, eyewitness testimony, forensic evidence and, where appropriate, additional medical reports. However, this does not mean that the state must guarantee that ill-treatment is never inflicted or that criminal proceedings should necessarily lead to a sanction.

In the present case the Court concluded that the applicant had an arguable claim of ill-treatment that should have been examined. The Court doubted the prison administration’s ability to carry out an independent investigation because of its own staff’s failure to react. The Court also stressed that no medical report or statements form the applicant or the doctor were taken after the incident. In addition the prosecutor also did not initiate any investigation into the alleged ill-treatment therefore the Court concluded that the procedural obligations under Article 3 of the Convention were not fulfilled.

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Last updated 18/11/2023