European Court of Human Rights finds Convention violations in providing effective protection to alleged sexual assault victim in the Czech Republic

On 20 June 2024, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) held in its Chamber judgment that an alleged victim’s rights under Articles 3 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the ‘Convention’) were breached by the Czech State and authorities. The violations stemmed from a failure to provide adequate protection to the applicant by not fulfilling their obligation to have a sufficient legal framework for effectively punishing non-consensual sexual relations. Violations of both the right to prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment and of the right to respect for private life were found to have occurred.


The applicant reported sexual offences against her theology lecturer and dissertation supervisor to the Czech police in 2009 for a period between 2008 and 2009. The relevant church authorities which she informed ordered the priest to resign, and the police opened an investigation, which they shortly closed after receiving a statement from the priest who admitted participating in the acts but claimed it was consensual on both sides. The police discontinued their investigation claiming that the act was not an offence under their Criminal Code, citing the fact that the applicant was not a minor, and that the priest was not in control of her, so could not have taken advantage of her. In addition, the police interpreted that it did not constitute rape as no violence was involved and the applicant did not verbally express lack of consent until after the acts. While the police noted that the act could have constituted sexual coercion under their new Criminal Code, they could not apply this retrospectively. The applicant was subsequently unsuccessful in appeals to the prosecutor’s office and on constitutional appeals made.


In its decision, the ECtHR referenced the lack of consideration by the Czech police of the credibility of the statements submitted, the dubious nature of the applicant’s consent or lack thereof, and her vulnerability due to the recent passing of her father and her deteriorating health. The sole focus of the police was whether the applicant lacked the ability to defend herself, as the Criminal Code did not lend itself to considering states of powerlessness due to vulnerability and psychological responses to sexual assault. The ECtHR noted the more suitable approaches taken recently in the Czech Supreme Court and in the newer Criminal Code, and highlighted the flaws in refusing to look at the facts of the case in their specific context.


While the ECtHR could not comment on the guilt of the alleged perpetrator, it found that the response by the authorities did not effectively protect the applicant, and that the Czech State had failed in its obligations to have a sufficient criminal law mechanism for imposing punishments for the sexual allegations made by the applicant. Accordingly, due to violations of Article 3 and 8, the ECtHR awarded non-pecuniary damages and costs in favour of the applicant.


Click here to read the press release for Z v the Czech Republic.



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