Lithuanian authorities failed to effectively investigate complaints of domestic violence, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) said on Tuesday.
The lower chamber of the court convicted Lithuania for violating the European provision prohibiting torture, inhuman or degrading treatment in a case exclusively dealing with domestic violence.
The case Valiulienė v. Lithuania looked into the complaint of a Lithuanian woman that the authorities in her country had failed to investigate her allegations of repeated domestic violence and to bring her Belgian partner to account. In addition, Valiulienė maintained that the length of the criminal proceedings had been excessive.
The European court said that the ill-treatment of the woman, which on five occasions caused her physical injuries, combined with her feelings of fear and helplessness, was sufficiently serious to reach the level of severity under of Article 3 (prohibition of torture and of inhuman or degrading treatment) of the convention. In that respect, it raised the government’s positive obligation under this provision.
The ECtHR found that the Lithuanian authorities had received sufficient information from the applicant to raise a suspicion that a crime had been committed. More precisely, the court said that as of that moment, they had been under an obligation to act upon her criminal complaint.
However, the Strasbourg-based body ruled that while the authorities had initially acted without undue delay, the investigation had been suspended repeatedly following the transfer of the case to the public prosecutor. “The fact that the prosecutor’s decisions had been quashed by the higher prosecutor as not being thorough enough indicated a serious flaw on the part of the State,” the court added.
An aggravating factor was that the prosecutor had decided to return the case of Valiulienė for private prosecution, only two years after a legislative reform was introduced in May 2003. The decision had been upheld despite Valiulienė’s plea that it would entail the risk of her partner enjoying impunity, given that the time-limit for prosecution was approaching.
“As a result of the prosecutor’s decision, the circumstances of the case had never been established by a competent court of law”, the ECtHR said. “Therefore”, it continued “one of the purposes of criminal prosecution, namely the effective protection against acts of ill-treatment, had not been achieved in Valiulienė’s case”. For that reason, the court concluded that there had been a violation of Article 3 on that account.
The court ordered Lithuania to pay the applicant €5,000 in respect of non-pecuniary damage.
Lithuania is not party to the 2011 Council of Europe’s Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence.