Summary: Polish court rules that the right to say goodbye to a dying person is a legally protected interest

Poland, 12th October 2016: A first instance court has ruled in a case brought by the family of a deceased prisoner that the right to say goodbye to a dying person is a legally protected interest. The family sought apologies and damages for the “moral injury” they suffered after the prison made it impossible for them to say goodbye to their family member who was dying in a prison hospital. The court ordered the prison to issue an official apology and ruled that the State Treasury should pay compensation. SRT grantee the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (HFHR) submitted an amicus curiae brief in the case.

HFHR’s brief underlined the importance of prisoners’ right to maintain contact with families and loved ones. Both the European Prison Rules and the UN Nelson Mandela Rules stipulate that information about an inmate’s death, serious illness or transfer to hospital should immediately be passed to their close family unless an inmate requested otherwise.

The court decided that the right to say goodbye to a dying prisoner is a legally protected personal interest within the meaning of the Civil Code, based on a number of sources including the Constitution of the Republic of Poland. The court ruled that the prison administration is obliged to notify the family of an inmate’s deteriorating health if an inmate is unable to do so themselves (in the case in question, the inmate was receiving strong narcotic painkillers) or if such notification cannot be delivered in due time.

HFHR lawyer Michał Kopczyński said, “This is a landmark ruling. It
confirms that the presence of a loved one at a dying person’s side and the last goodbye are given legal protection as a personal interest”.

Full story from HFHR’s website (currently in Polish only):

The /amicus curiae/ brief (also in Polish) is available here.

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