EU Watch

Hungary To Pay Compensation to HCLU Client Who Was Forcefully Catheterised

In an important judgement delivered in July, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) stated that forced catheterisation was a violation of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights on the prohibition of torture.

by Anna Kertész

Police forcefully inserted catheter after drink driving arrest

In 2010 a man contacted HCLU for legal help after being mistreated by police. He said he had been involved in a fight in a night club. The police found him that night in his car in front of his home and wanted to breathalyse him because he smelled like alcohol. He refused to be tested so he was arrested, handcuffed and taken to the emergency room for a blood and urine test. When he said he could not urinate the police asked the doctor to apply a catheter despite his firm opposition. After the incident, the man was given a nine month suspended prison sentence for drink-driving. He was represented before the courts by HCLU.

Following the forced catheterisation, the man lodged a complaint at the Independent Police Complaints Body, where it was established that taking urine sample by forceful catheterisation of the bladder seriously infringed his right to human dignity, physical integrity and health, as well as his right to fair procedure. However, the National Police Commissioner dismissed the complaint, although the decision did not mention the way HCLU's client was handcuffed or that he did not agree to be tested by catheterisation. When the action brought against the decision was dismissed by the Capital Administrative and Labour Court and then the Curia as well, HCLU turned to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).

Practice violates physical and mental integrity

According to the unanimous judgement brought by the ECtHR, forceful urine tested by catheterisation amounted to a serious violation of the prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment. The Court established that the authorities severely violated the man's physical and mental integrity, when a blood test would have been sufficient to determine the influence of alcohol. As ordered by the Court, Hungary has to pay 9,000 euros for non-material damage and a further 4,080 for costs and expenses.

Every year, HCLU receives requests for legal assistance in cases where in which person seeking help has undergone forced catheterisation. Common sense alone tells us that this procedure is not only extremely humiliating but, given that blood tests can be used instead, it is also unnecessary. Even so, no court decision has ever supported the position adopted by HCLU. There is no similar decision in ECtHR jurisprudence either. HCLU now trusts that the present judgement will end this abusive police practice once and for all, not only in Hungary but also in the EU.