Dignity in custody: a slap and a violation

Case analysis: see more detailed article in European Human Rights Law Review (forthcoming), summary below 

Bouyid v Belgium (App. No. 23380/09), Grand Chamber judgment of September 28, 2015


This case concerns Article 3 and the precise threshold of the nature of what kinds of ill-treatment will constitute inhuman or degrading treatment on arrest and in detention. The Grand Chamber overturned the Chamber judgment in this case and declined to follow previous established case law, concluding that an unjustified and unnecessary “slap” on the face by a police officer of a person arrested or detained is sufficient to cross that threshold. Such an assault is no longer “in principle” a violation of Article 3 but is not subject to any exceptions. Three judges dissented from the majority of the Grand Chamber on this point.

The Court, unanimously, also found a violation of the procedural duty in Article 3, the duty to ensure there is an independent and effective investigation into the allegation of ill-treatment in custody. The lowering of the threshold and the nature of the relatively new procedural duty combined may require an extension of the mandate and practice of police complaints and oversight bodies.


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