Edwards v UK (14 March 2002 – Application no. 46477/99) (ECtHR)

The treatment of Christopher Edwards, kicked to death in a prison cell, has been found to amount to breach of article 2 (Right to Life), in a claim against the UK before the ECtHR – not just because of his death, but because of the inadequate investigatory process which followed.

He (with a diagnosis of mental illness, himself) had been remanded in custody for a breach of the peace, and placed in the same cell as a man with a diagnosis of schizophrenia, who had been arrested for assault, and with a history of violent outbursts, including a previous assault on a cellmate in prison.

The Court further held that access to a judgment on whether authorities have failed to protect a person’s right to life, and on whether there is a claim for compensation, is an essential part of a remedy for the bereaved.

Liberty, the civil rights organisation, which supported the case, anticipates that the judgment will have implications for the treatment of mentally ill people in the criminal justice system. And the private, non-statutory inquiry commissioned by the Health Authority, the Prison Service and local council, and even a separate later one by the Police Complaints Authority, are no longer sufficient, in law, to guarantee the human rights involved.

In this case, just such an inquiry had found poor record keeping, inadequate communication, and limited inter-agency co-operation and made 85 recommendations for improvement. The PCA inquiry had found 15 counts of inadequate police involvement in the tragedy, but no grounds for prosecution of any officer.

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