Death of a three-year-old girl from meningitis that she got in the kindergarten and the examination of the Court
Plotnikov v. Russia 20.12.2018 (no. 74971/10)
The case concerned the death of the applicant’s daughter from a meningitis infection and his
complaint of the lack of an effective investigation. The Court found that there was no evidence to suggest that the Russian authorities had not met their obligation under Article 2 (right to life) to protect the life of the applicant’s daughter. An investigation had been instigated three days after her death; it had lasted a year and had been
conducted in an appropriately thorough manner. Moreover, the applicant had had recourse to an
independent judicial system in the wake of his daughter’s death.
The applicant, Sergey Nikolayevich Plotnikov, is a Russian national who lives in Abakan (Russia).
Mr Plotnikov’s daughter, V., born in 2005, contracted meningitis and died at the end of May 2008.
The applicant and his wife found out that another boy from the same nursery school had been
admitted to hospital a few days earlier and had later been diagnosed with the same illness. The boy
eventually died in early June 2008.
The authorities began an investigation into Ms Sh., the head of the nursery school, for aggravated
negligence, in particular for failing to alert health professionals and the parents of children attending
the nursery school about the infection, and to take measures to close the school.
The investigation, which included expert reports, interviews with the nursery school staff and
doctors, lasted a year, but was discontinued in June 2009. The investigator found that the
constituent elements of a crime had not been made out in her actions. V. had received appropriate
medical treatment once she had fallen ill and Ms Sh. had followed the relevant rules and regulations.
Indeed, she had pre-empted the official notice from authorities when taking the decision to close
The applicant challenged that decision in court, but the Abakan Town Court of the Republic of
Khakasia and the Supreme Court of the Republic of Khakasia upheld it in 2010. The courts found in
particular that the investigation had been thorough and had accurately established the circumstances of the case, and that the decision to discontinue the proceedings against Ms Sh. had been justified.
THE DECISION OF THE COURT
The Court recalled that the obligation to safeguard the right to life requires the authorities to take
appropriate action when they know, or ought to know, of the existence of a real and immediate risk
to an individual’s life, and where that action is within their powers and can reasonably be expected
to avert the risk.
However, the Court found that appropriate action had been taken by the authorities in this case. An
investigation had been initiated three days after V.’s death, and on the same day as that of her
classmate. It had lasted a year and had been thorough and detailed, involving wide-ranging witness
interviews and in-depth laboratory tests of biological material. The evidence obtained led the
investigator to discontinue the criminal proceedings against Ms Sh., after concluding that she had
not neglected her professional duties and was not at fault for either death.
The Court observed that the authorities’ obligation with respect to the right to life also requires the
existence of an effective independent judicial system which allows for: the facts to be established;
those at fault to be held accountable; and victims to receive appropriate redress. The Court found
that, based on the evidence submitted, there was nothing to suggest that the authorities had not
been sufficiently diligent and efficient in their efforts to investigate the circumstances of
Mr Plotnikov’s daughter’s death. Nor did the evidence suggest that they had failed to take any
important steps to establish the relevant facts.
Moreover, Mr Plotnikov had had victim status in the proceedings to challenge the investigator’s
decision. His complaints were examined at two levels of jurisdiction, and the courts had concluded
that the investigation had been thorough and accurate. Indeed, Mr Plotnikov had not indicated what
other measures the authorities could have taken.
The Court concluded that, although the circumstances of the case were tragic, the authorities had
not failed to take appropriate steps to safeguard Mr Plotnikov’s daughter’s life. It found that his
application was manifestly ill-founded, and therefore inadmissible (echrcaselaw.com editing).