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Sara Petrosyan

European Court Orders Armenia to Pay 8,000 Euros for Unlawful Detention of Citizen

 In the case of Piruzyan v. Armenia, on June 26, 2012, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) found in favor of the plaintiff and ordered Armenia to pay Piruzyan 8,000 euros in pecuniary damages.

Piruzyan was kept under unlawful detention for almost one year and two months. Here’s what the ECHR said in its decision,

The European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been: a violation of Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) of the European Convention on Human Rights; and, five violations of Article 5 §§ 1,3,4 (right to liberty and security) of the Convention.

The case concerned several complaints about criminal proceedings brought against the applicant in October 2006 for armed assault; the charges against him were ultimately dropped in December 2007 due to lack of evidence and he was released.

The Court found in particular that he should not have been placed in a metal cage during the hearings at his trial, and also stressed, among other things, that automatic refusal to release on bail was incompatible with the Convention requirements.

Principal facts

The applicant, Kamo Piruzyan, is an Armenian national who was born in 1978 and lives in Yerevan (Armenia). Suspected of assault and theft of a suitcase full of expensive jewellery, he was arrested on 19 October 2006. He was charged with banditry on 22 October 2006 and his detention was authorised by the relevant court on the same day.

His detention pending trial was subsequently extended on several occasions, and his appeals against it dismissed. On 19 February 2007, his detention period authorised by a judge came to an end but he was not released. When he challenged that, the chief of the detention facility and the regional court alike refused to release him on the ground that the case had been transmitted to court. The regional court decided on 12 March 2007 that he had to remain detained.

During the entire proceedings against him, which lasted almost nine months and included 21 public hearings before the regional court, when he was in the court room, Mr Piruzyan was kept in a metal cage which measured about 4.5 square metres. He was represented by a lawyer.

At the hearing on 8 August 2007, Mr Piruzyan requested the regional court to invalidate his detention or to otherwise release him on bail.  

The prosecutor argued that Mr Piruzyan should not be released on bail as he was accused of a serious crime. The regional court found that the examination of the case was not over and there were insufficient grounds to cancel Mr Piruzyan’s detention or to release him on bail.

On an unspecified date, the prosecutor dropped the charges against him and on 5 December 2007 the regional court terminated the proceedings. Mr Piruzyan was released the same day.

Complaints, procedure and composition of the Court

Relying in particular on Articles 3, Mr Piruzyan complained of the humiliation of having been placed in a metal cage during his criminal trial. He also made a number of other complaints under Article 5 §§ 1, 3 and 4 (right to liberty and security) about the decisions to extend his detention.

The application was lodged with the European Court of Human Rights on 25 July 2007.

Decision of the Court

Metal cage at trial (Article 3)

The Court noted that, contrary to the submissions of the Government, nothing in Mr Piruzyan’s behaviour could have justified placing him in a metal cage as a security measure. During all the public hearings held in his case, the public, as well as his family and friends, had observed him behind bars. Such a harsh appearance of judicial proceedings could have led an average observer to believe that he was an extremely dangerous criminal. In addition, being seen by the public in the cage had humiliated him in his own eyes, which had in turn to have aroused in him feelings of inferiority.

Consequently, imposing such a stringent and humiliating measure on Mr Piruzyan, without it having been justified by any security risk, had amounted to degrading treatment.

Accordingly, there had been a violation of Article 3.

Unlawful detention (Article 5 § 1)

Mr Piruzyan had been detained between 19 February 2007 and 12 March 2007 without a court order. The Court had already examined an identical complaint in another case against Armenia, namely Pogosyan v. Armenia, no. 44068/07, in which it had held that there had been a violation of Article 5 § 1 of the Convention in that the applicant’s detention had not been based on a court decision and had therefore been unlawful.3

The Court concluded that Mr Piruzyan’s detention during the above-mentioned period had likewise been unlawful, in violation of Article 5 § 1.

Prolonged detention (Article 5 § 3)

Insufficient reasons

The Armenian courts, when ordering Mr Piruzyan’s detention and its extension, had relied on the risk of him absconding and obstructing the proceedings, on the serious nature of the offence with which he had been charged, and on the fact that certain investigative measures had to be carried out and that the proceedings had been pending.

The pending proceedings and the need to carry out further investigative steps were not among the acceptable reasons for detaining a person pending trial under Article 5 § 3.

The Court also found that a repetitive general reference to the rest of the reasons mentioned above was not sufficient to justify detention.

There had therefore been a violation of Article 5 § 3.

Impossibility for release on bail

The Court observed that under Article 5 § 3 the authorities were expected to consider alternative measures to ensure the appearance of accused people at trial. In previous cases, the Court had already found a violation of Article 5 § 3 where applications for bail had been refused automatically with reference to domestic law. The request by Mr Piruzyan had also been rejected on the ground that he had been accused of a serious offence which, in accordance with the Armenian Code of Criminal Procedure, precluded release on bail. The Court found that to have been an automatic rejection of Mr Piruzyan’s application for bail, which had been incompatible with the Article 5 § 3 guarantees.

There had therefore been a violation of Article 5 § 3.

Judicial control of detention (Article 5 § 4)

The Court found that there had been two violations of Article 5 § 4 on account of a failure to ensure adversarial proceedings and equality of arms between the parties, and on account of a denial of judicial review of Mr Piruzyan’s detention on the sole ground that the criminal case was no longer considered to be in its pre-trial stage.

Just satisfaction (Article 41)

The court held that Armenia was to pay Mr Piruzyan 8,000 euros (EUR) in respect of non-pecuniary damage and EUR 18 for costs and expenses.

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