The lack of medical supervision of a prisoner with suicidal tendencies and his 3-day isolation consists humiliating treatment!
Jeanty v. Belgium 31.03.2020 (no. 82284/17)
The case concerned an individual suffering from a psychological disorder who made several suicide
attempts while in pre-trial detention in Arlon Prison.
The Court considered that Article 2 was applicable in the present case because the very nature of Mr
Jeanty’s actions (repeated suicide attempts) had put his life at real and imminent risk. The Court
went on to find that the measures taken by the authorities had actually prevented Mr Jeanty from
The Court also found that Mr Jeanty had suffered distress or hardship of an intensity exceeding the
unavoidable level of suffering inherent in detention, particularly on account of the lack of medical
supervision and treatment during his two periods of detention, combined with his placement in an
isolation cell for three days as a disciplinary measure in spite of his repeated suicide attempts. It also
held that the investigation in that regard had been ineffective.
The applicant, Philippe Jeanty, is a Belgian national who was born in 1969 and lives in Arlon
Period of detention from 26 June to 12 August 2011
In June 2011 Mr Jeanty was arrested and taken into police custody on suspicion of the offences ofindecent assault accompanied by violence or threats, and assault resulting in unfitness for work,
committed against his wife. During police questioning he reported being in psychological distress
and asked to be compulsorily confined, saying that he intended to take his own life.
The following day the investigating judge ordered Mr Jeanty’s placement in pre-trial detention and
informed Arlon Prison of his suicidal tendencies. After arriving at the prison Mr Jeanty made three
suicide attempts. The prison staff removed all objects and his personal effects. He was placed in a
secure isolation cell and a doctor administered a tranquiliser. Mr Jeanty was kept under special
surveillance for a few days. He was released on bail on 12 August 2011.
Period of detention from 21 October to 2 December 2011
In October 2011 a second arrest warrant was issued against Mr Jeanty, as he had not complied with
his bail conditions. He was therefore taken back to Arlon Prison, where he made several requests to
move to a different cell, complaining about his cellmates.
In November 2011, following the refusal of the head of the prison officers to allow him to change
cell again, Mr Jeanty threatened to commit suicide. He was placed in an isolation cell under special
surveillance. During a check, a guard found him perched on the bars of the door in the process of
attaching his trousers. He was stopped before he could throw himself off. On the doctor’s orders,
the staff put a helmet on him and handcuffed him to prevent him from hitting his head against the
wall and injuring himself. He remained restrained in that way until the following day.
Two days later Mr Jeanty was brought out of isolation and was interviewed by the prison governor,
who ordered his placement in an isolation cell for three days as a disciplinary sanction, taking the
view that the applicant’s suicide threats had been aimed at pressurising the prison staff into allowing
him to change cell. Mr Jeanty was released on bail on 2 December 2011.
In April 2014 Mr Jeanty lodged a complaint against a person or persons unknown, alleging that he
had been subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment during his two periods in pre-trial
detention, and complaining of being placed in ordinary prison cells although his state of health
meant that he needed psychological support. The complaint was dismissed and that decision was
upheld on appeal. Mr Jeanty appealed unsuccessfully on points of law.
Also in April 2014 Mr Jeanty was sentenced at first instance to a term of four years’ imprisonment,
half of which was suspended, for the offences of indecent assault accompanied by violence or
threats, and assault resulting in unfitness for work, committed against his wife. In April 2019 the
Court of Appeal set aside that judgment and found that Mr Jeanty was not criminally responsible for
his actions. It ordered his compulsory confinement and his immediate arrest.
THE DECISION OF THE COURT…
Article 2 (right to life)
Whether Article 2 was applicable
Mr Jeanty had survived his suicide attempts. Nevertheless, that fact in itself did not preclude the
applicability of Article 2 of the Convention. Where the activity involved by its very nature was
dangerous and put a person’s life at real and imminent risk, as in the case of life-threatening
violence, the level of injuries sustained might not be decisive, and even in the absence of injuries a
complaint in such cases might fall to be examined under Article 2.
In the present case Mr Jeanty had made several attempts on his own life while in detention, and it
was because of the intervention of the prison staff that he had not succeeded. The fact that the
applicant had not sustained life-threatening injuries, or apparently any serious physical injury, was
not decisive in this case, as the very nature of the applicant’s actions had placed his life at real and
imminent risk. Accordingly, Article 2 was applicable in the present case.
Whether the national authorities took the necessary measures to safeguard Mr Jeanty’s life
The Court considered that, overall, the authorities had done all that could reasonably be expected of
them to prevent the risk to Mr Jeanty’s life from materialising, in so far as they had had knowledge
of the certain and immediate nature of that risk. Moreover, the measures taken had actually
prevented Mr Jeanty from committing suicide. Consequently, there had been no violation of Article
2 of the Convention.
Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment)
Whether Mr Jeanty was subjected to treatment contrary to Article 3
The Court considered that in view of Mr Jeanty’s mental state, the lack of medical supervision and
treatment during his two periods of detention, combined with his placement in an isolation cell for
three days as a disciplinary measure in spite of his repeated suicide attempts, amounted to
particularly acute hardship, causing him distress of an intensity exceeding the unavoidable level of
suffering inherent in detention. The Court did not doubt that this treatment had aroused in him
feelings of arbitrariness, inferiority, humiliation and anguish. The fact that it had not been designed
to humiliate or debase the applicant did not prevent it being characterised as degrading and thus
falling within the scope of the prohibition set out in Article 3. There had therefore been a violation of
the substantive aspect of Article 3 of the Convention.
The effectiveness of the investigation into Mr Jeanty’s criminal complaint
It emerged from the reasoning of the Indictments Division’s judgment that the investigation carried
out under the authority of the investigating judge had established with some degree of accuracy the
events that had taken place in the prison. Nevertheless, more than eight months had elapsed
between the public prosecutor’s submissions recommending an investigation (July 2014) and the
point at which the investigating judge had received the file (March 2015). The length of time that
had elapsed before the commencement of the investigation had not been explained by the
Government and was difficult to understand and accept, given that a criminal complaint had been
lodged for inhuman and degrading treatment and culpable failure to act.
Moreover, when the investigation began in March 2015 the investigating judge had simply
requested the investigators to obtain and examine Mr Jeanty’s prison and medical records. No other
measures had been ordered. None of the persons concerned had been questioned, be it the prison
staff, the doctors who had attended Mr Jeanty or the applicant himself. Less than three months after
the file had been received by the investigating judge, the public prosecutor had recommended that the proceedings be discontinued. Such an investigation could not be considered effective.
Accordingly, there had been a violation of the procedural aspect of Article 3 of the Convention.
Just satisfaction (Article 41)
The Court held that Belgium was to pay Mr Jeanty 15,000 euros (EUR) in respect of non-pecuniary
damage and EUR 8,000 for costs and expenses.
Judges Serghides, Pinto de Albuquerque and Schembri Orland expressed a separate opinion which is
annexed to the judgment.