Court/Judicial body:: European Court of Human Rights
Citation: Application no. 52067/99
Date: 17 October 2006
Instrument(s) cited: European Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms
The Court held unanimously that there had been a violation of Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) of the European Convention on Human Rights concerning the ill-treatment of a 12-year-old boy while in police custody. Under Article 41 (just satisfaction) of the Convention, the Court awarded the applicant 10,000 euros (EUR) for non-pecuniary damage and EUR 3,500 for costs and expenses, less the sum of EUR 630 he had received by way of legal aid from the Council of Europe. 1. Principal facts The applicant, Halil İbrahim Okkalı, is a Turkish national who was born in 1983 and lives in İzmir (Turkey). At the material time he was 12 years old and worked as an apprentice in a garage. On 27 November 1995, at about 5.30 p.m., Halil was taken by his employer to the Çınarlı police station in İzmir. His employer accused him of stealing a sum of about 275 United States dollars that he had been asked to take to the bank, but the boy claimed that he had been robbed. In the police station he was interrogated by Superintendent İ.D. and Officer M.Y. When Halil’s father was told what had happened, he went straight to the police station. He reached an agreement with his son’s employer, who withdrew his complaint. Before leaving with his son, he signed a declaration that his son had not been tortured or ill-treated in the police station and was in good health, and that he did not wish his son to be examined by a doctor. However, once outside the police station the boy staggered, tottered and vomited twice. Back at home, when he undressed, his parents and the neighbours present saw numerous injuries and bruises on his body. The child then told his father that he had been beaten by his interrogators. Halil was taken by his father to Tepecik hospital, where the doctor who examined him in the casualty department observed that he had bruises of 10 x 10 cm on his arms and legs, and large 30 x 17 cm bruises across his buttocks. Halil was admitted to the paediatrics department. The next day, on 28 November 1995, Halil’s father lodged a complaint and asked for his son to be examined by a forensic medical examiner. The child was examined by two doctors on 30 November and 1 December 1995, and the final report indicated the following injuries on Halil’s body: haematomas and bruising around the edge of the abdominal wall, a 4 x 6 cm bruise on the left shin, a bruise behind the left knee, large bruises on the knees and right shin, and areas of bruising on the left wrist, right elbow, back of the right hand and on the thighs. The public prosecutor of İzmir questioned the police officers involved. They denied the accusations made against them and called a face-to-face meeting with the child. In February 1996 the prosecutor indicted Superintendent İ.D. and Officer M.Y for the offence defined by Article 243 of the Criminal Code as the “obtaining by a public official of a confession under torture”. The Assize Court acknowledged that the child had been beaten by police officers but decided to reclassify the offence as “assault and ill-treatment”. It handed down the minimum sentence, which it mitigated on account of the defendants’ good conduct during the trial, then commuted the prison sentence to a fine and ordered a stay of execution. The applicant lodged an appeal on points of law and the Court of Cassation, reclassifying the offence as the obtaining of a confession under duress, referred the case back to the Assize Court. On 26 February 1998 the Assize Court once again handed down the minimum penalty, namely a one-year prison sentence, which it reduced to ten months on account of the defendants’ good conduct during the trial, and then ordered a stay of execution. That judgment was upheld by the Court of Cassation on 24 March 1999. The applicant brought an action for damages against the Ministry of the Interior. The administrative courts dismissed his action as being time-barred. 2. Procedure and composition of the Court The application was lodged with the Court on 22 September 1999 and declared partly admissible on 5 May 2001. Judgment was given by a Chamber of seven judges, composed as follows: Jean-Paul Costa (French), President, András Baka (Hungarian), Ireneu Cabral Barreto (Portuguese), Riza Türmen (Turkish), Mindia Ugrekhelidze (Georgian), Antonella Mularoni (San Marinese), Danutė Jočienė (Lithuanian), judges, and also Sally Dollé, Section Registrar. 3. Summary of the judgment Complaint The applicant complained of the impunity afforded to the police officers who had ill-treated him. He relied on Article 3 of the Convention. Decision of the Court Article 3 It was not in dispute that the applicant had been the victim of ill-treatment by police officers: the criminal complaint lodged by the applicant had led to their conviction. The Court regretted that neither the domestic judgments nor the Government’s observations had contained any reference to the particular seriousness of the impugned act on account of the victim’s age, or to any domestic legislation on the protection of minors. The authorities could have been expected to regard the applicant’s vulnerability as an aggravating factor. The Court thus noted that nothing in the proceedings had been indicative of a particular concern for the protection of a minor. Moreover, the fact that the proceedings had resulted in impunity left some doubt as to the dissuasive effect of the judicial system that was supposed to protect anyone, whether minors or adults, from acts in breach of the absolute prohibition laid down in Article 3. In addition, the applicant alleged that the police officers in question had subsequently been promoted, which the Government did not mention in their observations. The Court did not draw any significant conclusion from that omission but nevertheless regarded it as noteworthy. The domestic courts had mitigated the sentences given to the defendants on the ground that they had made “fully explained confessions”, and had ordered a stay of execution on account of their remorse. However, those grounds were not substantiated by the case file. In the Court’s view, the judges’ decision suggested that their power of discretion had been used to lessen the consequences of an extremely serious unlawful act rather than to show that such acts could in no way be tolerated. In conclusion, the Court considered that the criminal-law system, as applied in the applicant’s case, had proved to be far from rigorous and had had no dissuasive effect capable of ensuring the effective prevention of unlawful acts such as those complained of by the applicant. The Court accordingly found that the impugned criminal proceedings, in view of their outcome, had failed to provide appropriate redress for an infringement of the principle enshrined in Article 3. The Court therefore held that there had been a violation of Article 3.
Link to full judgement: http://www.coe.int/t/transversalprojects/children/Source/caselawCourt/OkkalicTurkey_fr.doc (only available in French)