European Court of Human Rights
24 October 1979

Facts

The applicant, Mr. Winterwerp, suffered severe brain damage in an accident and received voluntary treatment in a psychiatric hospital. Half a year after his voluntary treatment was finished he was committed to a psychiatric hospital by an order issued by the local authorities. On his wife's and public prosecutor's applications the order was renewed from year to year by the Regional Court on the basis of medical reports from the doctor treating the applicant.

Complaint

Mr. Winterwerp complained that he was never heard by the courts or notified of the orders, that he did not receive any legal assistance and that he had no opportunity of challenging the medical reports.

Court's ruling

The Court noted that Article 5(1)(e) of the Convention permits lawful detention of persons of unsound mind. The Court also emphasized that no one should be dispossessed of his liberty in an arbitrary fashion. The Court further stated that it is essential that a person involuntarily placed in mental health care institution should have access to a court and the opportunity to be heard either in person or, where necessary, through some form of representation. Mental illness may entail restricting or modifying the manner of the exercise of such a right, but it cannot justify impairing the very essence of the right.

In the instant case the Court concluded that the applicant was never associated, either personally or through a representative, in the proceedings leading to the various detention orders made against him: he was never notified of the proceedings or of their outcome; neither was he heard by the courts or given the opportunity to argue his case. Considering that the Court ruled that the applicant's rights guaranteed in Article 5 of the Convention were violated.

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