Poland: Rape victim with intellectual disability fights for justice in Strasbourg

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) will hear whether Polish courts were right to overturn the conviction of a man charged with rape against a man with an intellectual disability. The conviction was overturned when Polish courts threw out evidence from the victim due to his disability. Last week, MDAC submitted a legal opinion on the rights of people with mental disabilities to have their evidence admitted and heard. 

The ECtHR in Strasbourg, France. Photograph: Afp/AFP/Getty Images

Peter (not his real name) returned to his mother’s home in 2007 with blood on his body following a visit to his local day-care centre in Warsaw, Poland. Following an investigation by the police, a therapist at the day-care centre was charged with rape. Initially, the criminal court accepted Peter’s testimony that he had been raped, along with evidence from psychologists.

The defendant was found guilty in 2010, but proceeded to appeal the ruling, arguing that Peter’s evidence couldn’t be accepted due to his disability, resulting in a retrial.

During the retrial, a new expert said that Peter’s evidence should not be relied upon due to his intellectual disability. The court accepted this, resulting in the accused being released and charges against him dropped.

Now, Peter’s mother is taking the case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). She argues that the Polish courts were wrong to refuse her son’s evidence, and that the decision was discriminatory on the basis of his intellectual disability. The result is that Peter was denied justice.

In its intervention before the ECtHR, MDAC points out that international law requires that people with disabilities have the same protection before the law as anyone else, without discrimination. The submission states that people with disabilities must “not [be] excluded from the protection of the justice system” through discriminatory rules of evidence. It goes on to say that courts have an obligation to make adjustments to ensure that the evidence of people with disabilities can be taken, and that governments must act to protect such persons from abuse.

Ann Campbell, MDAC’s Litigation Director, said:

“The Court has an opportunity to explicitly support the right to access to justice for people with disabilities. It could make real strides in requiring States to ensure their procedures and processes make it possible to hear and consider the evidence of victims of crime who have a disability. It’s time for Peter and others like him who have suffered serious harm to gain justice.”

MDAC would like to thank Louise Price, Barrister at Doughty Street Chambers London, and Dr. Isabel Clare, Clinical and Forensic Psychologist at the University of Cambridge, for assisting MDAC with the intervention.

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