CASE OF JUOZAITIENĖ AND BIKULČIUS v. LITHUANIA – Applications no. 70659/01 and 74371/01 (2008)
Facts: The Applicants, Mrs Regina Juozaitienė (1st Applicant) and Mr Jonas Bikulčius (2nd Applicant), are Lithuanian nationals. The case consists of the criminal proceedings against the driver and the police officer. On the evening of Friday 24 July 1998 the sons of the Applicants were found dead in a car with single gunshot wounds to their backs. The deaths had occurred as their sons were passengers in a car which was involved in a police chase. On 25 July 1998 criminal proceedings were instituted against RM (the driver) for manslaughter in regard to the deaths of the two sons.
The driver of the car, who was drunk and made an attempt to flee, was acquitted of the offence of manslaughter. The Applicants’ civil claims for damages against the police were not examined. The court sentenced the driver (RM) to six years’ imprisonment for resisting the lawful orders of the police. It was also decided to institute criminal proceedings against SG (one of the policemen) for the manslaughter of the Applicants’ sons and for exceeding his authority. The Supreme Court upheld the judgment. The criminal proceedings which were opened against one of the police officers, holding him responsible for the deaths, were discontinued by the prosecutor, emphasising that the swerving movements of the car had been the cause of the deaths. The prosecution found no indication of any crime in the actions of officer SG. The Applicants appealed, but the District court rejected their appeals.
Issue: The case was brought to the Court to decide whether there is a violation of Article 2 of the Convention (right to life).
Holdings: Yes, there had been a violation of Article 2 of the Convention (right to life).
Court’s Rationale: Decision whether the Applicants’ sons were deprived of their lives in violation of Article 2 of the Convention: taking into account all the facts in the case, the Court found that the victims were killed by shots fired by SG, whose aim was to stop the car and arrest the driver.
The Court’s task was to decide whether the force used by police officer was “absolutely necessary” and it had neither confirmed it nor dispelled the doubts. By directing fire at the Ford Escort, the officers were running a very high risk of killing the passengers and should have reasonably foreseen that risk. In addition, no eyewitnesses to the chase were identified during the investigation. The Court therefore did not find that the escaping driver posed an obvious danger to the public. In any event, the Court did not consider that the level of the threat required that he had to be stopped immediately by gunfire. The Court considered that their actions indicated a lack of caution in the use of firearms, contrary to what should be expected from law-enforcement professionals. The Court concluded that the use of force by police officers was unlawful.
Decision whether the inquiry into the death of the applicants’ sons was effective:
The Court noted that the investigation into the lawfulness of the shooting was not opened until almost 10 months after the incident. No assessment as to the circumstances and lawfulness of the use of force by SG was made. There had not therefore been a prompt investigation, as required by Article 2. Other claims concerned the exact timing and duration of the chase.
The Court further noted that the domestic authorities had concentrated their inquiry on one version only – that presented by the police – without discussing any further hypotheses, such as those raised by the Applicants, whose doubts had not been scrutinised. Finally, no evidence has been submitted to show that the account of the police was the only objectively possible version of events (e.g. the expert opinion concerning the correlation between the distance and trajectory of the bullets).
Just satisfaction: The court held that Lithuania was to pay the Applicants the overall sum of 30,000 Euros for all forms of damage (pecuniary and non-pecuniary) suffered.
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