Russia: Strasbourg court says lawyers must follow their clients' instructions

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled in a case against Russia, criticising the poor quality of state-funded legal representation in the country, and admonishing its justice system for failing to allow people to effectively challenge their psychiatric detention.

European Court of Human Rights, Strasbourg, France. Photo: AFP/Getty Images.European Court of Human Rights, Strasbourg, France. Photo: AFP/Getty Images.

Mr K is a 71-year-old Russian man who lives in St. Petersburg. In 2007 police took him to a psychiatric hospital, on the basis that he had alerted them to a potential risk of unexploded bombs at a nearby industrial facility. Six days later a court appointed a state-funded lawyer to represent him in detention proceedings. Instead of the lawyer taking his instructions, she told the court that in her opinion his detention was justified! He was discharged after two weeks, fought unsuccessfully in the local courts for justice, so he took his case to the European Court of Human Rights.

Last week, the European Court said that Mr K’s right to liberty had been violated and ordered the Russian government to pay him 1,500 EUR compensation. It criticised the conduct of the lawyer, and the court that approved his detention.

There are around 32,500 cases of forced psychiatric treatment cases in Russia per year, according to statistics held by the Administration of Justice Department of Russia. Russian law entitles detainees to legal representation and an effective court hearing. MDAC urges the Russian government to review the effectiveness of its justice system, and we encourage the Russian Federal Chamber of Lawyers to work with people with mental health issues and the international community, to develop basic guarantees of ethical practice guidelines for lawyers who represent people in mental health detention proceedings.

MDAC's work on this case has been funded by donations from individuals in the UK. 


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