Right of Prisoners’ Families to Say Goodbye Tested in Poland

A family's lawsuit against a Polish correctional facility for preventing them from saying goodbye to their incarcerated relative, near death in the prison hospital, is the latest test of prisoners' rights in Poland.
The importance of prisoners’ right to maintain contact with their family and loved ones cannot be emphasized enough, the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (HFHR) argues in its amicus brief supporting the family's lawsuit.

Though the idea of incarceration is to separate a person from family, home and local environment, according to international standards prisoners cannot be depraved of the right to private and family life.

Additionally, the HFHR quoted European regulations for prisoners that state that once a prisoner is incarcerated, information on their death, illness or injury as well as on their stay in hospital should be immediately passed on to their spouse or partner, if the prisoner did not wish otherwise. Similar standards are established in a set of rules known as the "Nelson Mandela Rules," which was adopted by the UN in October 2015.

The missed funeral

As recorded in a previous ruling of the European Court of Human Rights, the protection of prisoners' right to family life still should be improved. This decision stemmed from a case where prison authorities refused to allow an inmate to attend his father's funeral — a violation of Article 8 of the Convention, which ensures the right to family life.

Katarzyna Wiśniewska, a lawyer at the HFHR states: "Though the case in which we submitted the amicus curiae brief concerns other issues than those applications that were previously resolved by the ECtHR, the ruling of the court allows us to define the range of responsibilities imposed on the state and how to interpret them. In our opinion, the court's rulings protect the right to say goodbye under Article 8 of the Convention.”

'Family ties'

Additionally, the emphasis on the protection of "family ties" in Polish law allows the right to say goodbye to a dying person to be considered a personal interest.

"If family ties form an exceptional bond between people that deserves to be protected by law, then a similar protection should be given to the right to say the last goodbye to the dying person by the loved ones," said Michał Kopczyński, an attorney for the Helsinki Foundation.