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On September 12th 1998 around 2pm, Mr. Alain Dubois was found dead in a public park near the railway station of Pau. He had suffered serious head injuries and multiple trauma.

The police officers in charge of the investigation didn’t treat the area as a scene of crime. They didn’t collect and safeguard any evidence on the scene and on the body. They didn’t document postmortem changes to establish the location of injury and the time and place of death. No documentation of the social, medical and mental health history of the decedent was made. The police officers didn’t launch a witness appeal. Some pictures of the body were taken and a quick visual examination was made by a family doctor.

Around 6pm, a police officer notified the next of kin of the death of Mr. Dubois. He added that the police investigation on cause of death (art.74 of the code of penal procedure) concluded that his death was a suicide. On September 15th 1998, the prosecutor Dreno closed the investigation without ordering an autopsy, and authorized the release of the body for burial. On September 18th 1998, the funeral took place.

On September 24th 1998, the family of the decedent pressed charges for murder and requested an autopsy. It was the start of a 8 years  legal battle which cost the family €25,000. They had to pay a large deposit and hire several lawyers to request that the police conduct a second investigation and to have them perform essential investigative work (DNA testing, hair analysis, autopsy, blood test, reenactment, interrogation of witnesses). Several of their requests were denied (witness appeal, interrogation of witnesses). On August 9th 2006, the investigative judge decided to close the investigation. On October 24th 2006, the appeal court of Pau confirmed his decision. On May 9th 2007, the supreme court (Cour de cassation) rejected the appeal of the family without holding any hearing (art. 567-1-1 of the code of penal procedure).

On November 17th 2007, the family filed an application with the ECHR (see below) arguing that the authorities didn’t act of their own motion for the the second investigation. The applicants added that the 8 years investigation suffered considerable delays and was conducted only to confirm the findings of “suicide” of the first investigation. They alleged a violation of articles 2, 6-1 and 13 of the Convention. The application was not communicated by the Court to the agent of the French Republic.

On July 7th 2011, the grand chamber of the Court stated again in its judgment Al-Skeini and others v. UK (55721/07) : “165. What form of investigation will achieve the purposes of Article 2 may vary (..). However, (..), the authorities must act of their own motion (..). They cannot leave it to the initiative of the next-of-kin either to lodge a formal complaint or to take responsibility for the conduct of any investigative procedures (..) 166. (..) The authorities must take the reasonable steps available to them to secure the evidence concerning the incident, including inter alia eye-witness testimony, forensic evidence and, where appropriate, an autopsy (..).

On November 15th 2011, the Judges of the 5th section found the application inadmissible on the ground that several requests of the family “were granted within reasonable time” in the 2nd investigation. They added that the 2nd investigation was effective. The Judges didn’t rule on the effectiveness of the first investigation and on the fact that the 2nd investigation was at the initiative of the next of kin.

On April 7th 2008, Mr. Mahmoud Philippe El Shennawy was transferred to the notorious jail of Pau. He was placed in solitary confinement and was guarded by masked prison guards of the ERIS unit.

From April 9th to April 18th 2008, the applicant accused of armed robbery, appeared at the criminal court of Pau. Each day of court appearance, the applicant was strip searched naked for up to 8 times and asked by masked guards of the ERIS to bend over and/or squat. When the applicant was bending over and/or squatting, the ERIS guards were doing a visual inspection of his anus. These acts were videotaped by one of the guard. On April 11th 2008, the applicant refused to squat. Nevertheless the masked guards coerced him to squat naked. Later in the day, they forcibly removed his clothes, coerced him to squat naked and forced him to appear in court.

On April 11th 2008, the judge presiding the criminal court ruled that he couldn’t order the ERIS guards to stop these acts. On April 15th 2008, the judge of the administrative tribunal of Pau ruled that only the judges of the criminal court of Pau could order the ERIS guards to stop. On November 14th 2008, the administrative supreme court annulled the ruling of the administrative tribunal of Pau (case 315622) but refused to rule on the violation of article 3 of the Convention.

On October 15th 2008, the applicant submitted his case to the European Court of Human Rights arguing that the multiple strip searches, the bending over, the coerced squatting, the visual inspection of his anus and the videotaping of these acts were violations of articles 3 and 8 of the Convention. He added that the lack of effective remedy was a violation of article 13 and also that these acts prevented him to defend himself during the trial in violation of articles 6-1 and 6-3. On June 16th 2009, the application was communicated to the agent of the French government with questions to be answered within 16 weeks.

On January 20th 2011, the Court found a violation of article 3 of the Convention on the ground that the multiple strip searches, the bending over, the forced squatting. and their videotaping by masked guards were overall a degrading treatment. The Court also found that the applicant didn’t have any effective remedy to obtain redress, in violation of article 13 but forgot to examine the allegations of violations of articles 6-1 and 6-3.

The applicant was represented by Me Patrice Spinosi (Paris) who was not available for comments.

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