European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR)

The ECtHR is a judicial body of the Council of Europe whose main function is to monitor the compliance of States parties with the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR). The ECtHR is responsible for analyzing complaints from individuals, groups of individuals, or States for human rights violations committed by States that have accepted the ECtHR’s jurisdiction.

News from the ECtHR:

On September 14, 2023, the ECtHR found that Italy had violated the right to life by failing to take the necessary measures to prevent the death by drug overdose of a person in its custody. The case states that on May 10, 2001, C.C. was arrested as part of an anti-drug trafficking operation, while he was leaving his flat in Milan with signs of drug abuse. He was transferred and handcuffed to a cell at the police headquarters in Milan. About two hours after arriving there, he asked to use the bathroom, where he started vomiting and collapsed. Finally, an ambulance was called, as C.C. appeared to be in a cyanotic state. The victim was taken to Fatebenefratelli Hospital, where he was declared dead.

In 2003, a report concluded that the cause of death was cocaine intoxication. However, the prosecutors opted not to open an investigation since there was no criminal evidence of the actions of a third party. The applicants sued the Minister of the Interior for failure to assist a person in danger and also failure to supervise properly, which was upheld by the Milan District Court. Nevertheless, the decision was overturned by the Milan Court of Appeal. In 2011, the Court of Cassation decided that it could not reconstruct the facts and that the Court of Appeal’s decision had been reasonable and logical.

The ECtHR expressed that, since the right to life is one of the most essential guarantees of the Convention, the authorities are obliged to take into account the treatment of individuals in police custody due to their situation of vulnerability, with the authorities bearing the burden of proof when injuries or deaths occur during detention. The ECtHR pointed out that, although there was not so much evidence to know that C.C. would be at imminent risk from using a lethal dose of cocaine, the authorities had an obligation to take basic precautions to minimize the risks to his health and, in this case, he was known to the police as a drug addict. In addition, at no time did the victim receive medical attention after his arrest, and it is unknown whether he was properly supervised and, for all these reasons, the ECtHR found that there had been a violation of Article 2 (right to life) of the Convention. The press release can be found here.