Validity Foundation - Mental Disability Advocacy Centre

Ukraine: Validity urges European Court of Human Rights to condemn forensic psychiatric detention

By Erzsébet Oláh 13th December 2021


Recently, Validity intervened in the case of Tymoshenko v. Ukraine brought by a young woman with a psychosocial disability who was detained and treated against her will in a psychiatric hospital.  

The Ukrainian prosecution accused Ms Tymoshenko of hurting another person. Eventually, the criminal court decided that she could not understand and control her actions because she had paranoid schizophrenia. Instead of having to prove her guilt and imposing a fair sentence in a criminal process, the court sent her straight to a psychiatric hospital for involuntary treatment. Ms Tymoshenko was not present at the hearing. When she found out about the result from her legal-aid lawyer, she told him to appeal, but the lawyer refused to do so. The criminal court ignored the appeal she filed by herself.  

What happened to Ms Tymoshenko also happens to many other people with intellectual or psychosocial disabilities. The law calls this an insanity defence. Criminal courts may decide that people are not guilty of the crimes they have allegedly committed but still send them to be detained in psychiatric institutions. Šárka Dušková, our lawyer, said: “Persons with disabilities may be detained there for a very long time, sometimes for years. As in the case of Ms Tymoshenko, sometimes they do not even have an opportunity to speak to the court, explain what happened, or appeal against decisions.” 

In our intervention, we explained that the different approach to people with intellectual or psychosocial disabilities in the criminal process often violates their basic human rights. Firstly, it is an unfair trial if the accused person cannot speak to the court and appeal against judgments. Secondly, it is discrimination to detain somebody and treat them against their will because of their diagnosis. Moreover, it is unjust because they may be held in a psychiatric hospital for much longer than if they were given a prison sentence. Lastly, coercive psychiatric treatment often amounts to torture, or ill-treatment. You can read our third-party intervention here. 

Several international human rights bodies have already said that people with disabilities should be protected against these practices. The European Court of Human Rights can demonstrate in this case that it protects persons with disabilities in criminal proceedings on an equal basis with others.