Access to medical care

While you are in prison, you should have the opportunity to see a doctor whenever there is such need. The prison administration must ensure that you can consult a qualified doctor without unjustified delay.
Case summary

Jasinskis v. Latvia

European Court of Human Rights
21 December 2010

After a night of drinking, the applicant’s son, who was deaf and mute, fell down a flight of stairs, injuring his head and losing consciousness for several minutes. The police took him to the police station to sober up. When the ambulance crew contacted the police they were informed that no medical examination was needed since the son was simply intoxicated. After being locked up in a cell, the son knocked on the doors and walls for a while, but to no avail. The following morning, after two failed attempts to wake the applicant’s son up, the police called an ambulance and he was finally taken to hospital only after repeated requests by the applicant. The applicant’s son died several hours later and a subsequent autopsy confirmed multiple injuries to the head and brain as the cause of death.

The applicant complained that his son\'s death was in violation of the guarantees of Article 2(1) of the Convention.

Court’s ruling
The Court stated that Article 2 obliges the State not only to refrain from the “intentional” taking of life, but also to take appropriate steps to safeguard the lives of those within its jurisdiction. Persons in custody are in a vulnerable position and the authorities are under a duty to protect them. Where the authorities decide to place and maintain in detention a person with disabilities, they should demonstrate special care in guaranteeing such conditions as correspond to his special needs resulting from his disability.
In the context of right to life, the obligation to protect the life of individuals in custody also implies an obligation for the authorities to provide them with the medical care necessary to safeguard their life. In the case at hand the police had been properly informed of the applicant’s son’s sensory disabilities and of his injury. However, no medical examination took place when he was taken into custody. An ambulance was only called 14 hours later. The police had also denied him an opportunity to provide information about his state of health. In conclusion, given their failure to seek a medical opinion, failure to react on the applicant’s son’s knocking and to call an ambulance, the police had failed to fulfil their duty to safeguard his life. Thus there was a violation of Article 2(1) of the Convention. 

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