European Court of Human Rights: Godysz vs. Poland

The Fourth Section of the European Court of Human Rights found Poland to be in violation of the right to liberty contained in Article 5(3) of the European Convention on Human Rights in the case Godysz vs. Poland (Application no.46949/07).

The Court stated that, even if the case was one of organised crime, the difficulty of it could not justify the length of the detention on remand, particularly as the length seemed to the due to the authorities’ responsibilities.

27.  Indeed, in cases such as the present one concerning organised criminal gangs, the risk that a detainee, if released, might bring pressure to bear on witnesses or other co-accused or might otherwise obstruct the proceedings often is, by the nature of things, high. In this respect, the Court notes, however, that in all the decisions extending the applicant’s detention, no specific substantiation of the risk that the applicant would tamper with evidence, intimidate witnesses or attempt to otherwise disrupt the trial emerged. In the absence of any other factor capable of showing that the risk relied on actually existed, this argument cannot be accepted in the context of the whole period.

28.  Furthermore, according to the authorities, the likelihood of a severe sentence being imposed on the applicant created a presumption that the applicant would obstruct the proceedings. However, the Court would reiterate that, while the severity of the sentence faced is a relevant element in the assessment of the risk of absconding or re-offending, the gravity of the charges cannot by itself justify long periods of detention on remand (see Michta v. Poland, no. 13425/02, §§ 49, 4 May 2006).

29.  As regards the complexity of the case, the Court’s attention has been drawn to the nature of the charges, the number of the accused (twenty one) and the voluminous documentation. It appears, however, that the authorities referred to the complexity of the case in a very general manner. There is no indication that the nature of the case required the applicant’s continuous detention. Moreover, it seems that the authorities had gathered all necessary evidence by October 2007 and that they subsequently failed to envisage the possibility of imposing other, less strict, preventive measures on the applicant (see paragraph 12 above).

30.  While all those above factors could justify even a relatively long period of detention, they did not give the domestic courts an unlimited power to prolong this measure.

31.  Having regard to the foregoing, even taking into account the fact that the courts were faced with the particularly difficult task of trying a case involving an organised criminal gang, the Court concludes that the grounds given by the domestic authorities could not justify the overall period of the applicant’s detention. In these circumstances it is not necessary to examine whether the proceedings were conducted with special diligence.

There has accordingly been a violation of Article 5 § 3 of the Convention.

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