Police Law Blog European Decisions Statutory Materials

€12,000 for unnecessary and disproportionate police use of Taser (and subsequent failure to investigate this)

In Znakovas v Lithuania [2019] ECHR 820, the European Court of Human Rights held that where police officers used a Taser to subdue an arrested person being taken in a police car to a police station and there was then a subsequent failure to investigate the force used, both matters amounted to a breach of Article 3, justifying damages of €12,000.

Two officers attended the applicant’s home after receiving a call about domestic violence. On arrival, the applicant’s wife greeted them and told them that the applicant had been acting aggressively, had slapped her in the face, kicked her several times and that he had a gun in the home [8], [44]. The officers entered the applicant’s bedroom where the applicant was drunk, hostile, refused to give any explanation about his wife’s allegations, threatened the officers and resisted arrest. He was taken handcuffed and taken to the police car in his underwear, as he had refused to get dressed [9], [44].

The officers stated that during the journey to the police station, the applicant was aggressive, grabbed and pulled the jacket of the officer driving the police car and tried to grab the steering wheel, creating the risk of a crash. The driving officer said that he stopped the car, ran to the back door, opened it and used his Taser [10]. The evidence was consistent with the applicant’s claim that the Taser had been used on him three or four times [45].

The court held that this use force was unjustified even on the officers’ accounts [47]. The applicant had been given no warning that a Taser would be used, so as to give him an opportunity to comply with the officers’ orders. The officer said he had to act “within seconds” but had been able to stop the car and exit it. There was no explanation of the danger from delaying use of the Taser after the car was stopped [48]. There was no reason given for why less coercive measures would have been insufficient where the applicant was sixty-one years old, handcuffed, unarmed, wearing only underwear, and alone against two officers [49].

In those circumstances, the use of force had not been shown to be necessary or proportionate and so was a breach of the substantive obligation under Article 3 [51].

Secondarily, the court accepted that there had been inadequate inquiry into the lawfulness of the force used [59]-[60], amounting to a breach of the procedural obligation under Article 3 [62].

The court awarded €12,000 in respect of both breaches, with no breakdown as to how it valued each separate breach [67].