EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS
Press release issued by the Registrar
GÄFGEN v. GERMANY
The European Court of Human Rights is holding a Grand Chamber hearing today Wednesday 18 March 2009 at 9.15 a.m., on the merits in the case of Gäfgen v. Germany (application no. 22978/05).
The hearing will be broadcast from 2.30 p.m. on the Court’s Internet site (http://www.echr.coe.int).
The applicant, Magnus Gäfgen, is a German national who was born in 1975. He is currently in prison in Schwalmstadt (Germany).
Summary of the facts
The case concerns
Mr Gäfgen’s complaint, in particular, that he was
ill-treatment by the police in order to make him confess to the whereabouts of J., the youngest son of a well-known banking family in Frankfurt am Main, and that the ensuing trial against him was not fair.
In July 2003 Mr Gäfgen was sentenced to life imprisonment for the abduction and murder of J.. The court found that his guilt was of a particular gravity, meaning that the remainder of his prison sentence cannot be suspended on probation after 15 years of detention.
The child, aged 11, had got to know the applicant, who at the time was a law student, through his sister. On 27 September 2002 the applicant lured J. into his flat by pretending that J.’s sister had left a jacket there. He then suffocated the child.
Subsequently, the applicant deposited a ransom demand at J.’s parents’ home, requiring them to pay one million euros to see their child again. He abandoned J.’s corpse under the jetty of a pond one hour’s drive away from Frankfurt.
On 30 September 2002 at around 1 a.m. Mr Gäfgen collected the ransom at a tram station. He was placed under police surveillance and was arrested by the police several hours later.
On 1 October 2002 one of the police officers responsible for questioning Mr Gäfgen, on the instructions of the Deputy Chief of Frankfurt Police, warned the applicant that he would face considerable suffering if he persisted in refusing to disclose the child’s whereabouts. They considered that threat necessary as J.’s life was in great danger from lack of food and the cold. As a result of those threats, the applicant disclosed where he had hidden the child’s body. Following that confession, the police secured further evidence, notably the tyre tracks of the applicant’s car at the pond and the corpse.
At the outset of the criminal proceedings against the applicant, Frankfurt am Main Regional Court decided that all his confessions made throughout the investigation could not be used as evidence at trial as they had been obtained under duress, in breach of Article 136a of the Code of Criminal Procedure and Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. However, the regional court did allow the use in the criminal proceedings of evidence obtained as a result of the statements extracted from the applicant under duress.
Ultimately, on 28 July 2003 the applicant was found guilty of abduction and murder and was sentenced to life imprisonment. It was found that, despite the fact that the applicant had been informed at the beginning of his trial of his right to remain silent and that all his earlier statements could not be used as evidence against him, he nevertheless again confessed that he had kidnapped and killed J. The court’s findings of fact concerning the crime were essentially based on that confession. They were also supported by: the evidence secured as a result of the first extracted confession, namely the autopsy report and the tyre tracks at the pond; and, other evidence obtained as a result of the applicant being observed after he had collected the ransom money, later discovered in his flat or paid into his accounts.
The applicant lodged an appeal on points of law which was dismissed by the Federal Court of Justice on 21 May 2004. He subsequently lodged a complaint with the Federal Constitutional Court, which on 14 December 2004 refused to examine it. That court confirmed the regional court’s finding that threatening the applicant with pain in order to extract a confession from him constituted a prohibited method of interrogation under domestic law and violated Article 3 of the Convention.
On 20 December 2004 the two police officers involved in threatening the applicant were convicted of coercion and incitement to coercion while on duty and were given suspended fines.
On 28 December 2005 the applicant applied for legal aid in order to bring official liability proceedings against the Land of Hesse to obtain compensation for being traumatised by the investigative methods of the police. Those proceedings are currently still pending.
The applicant complains that he was subjected to torture when questioned by the police. He further submits that his right to a fair trial was violated notably by the use at his trial of evidence secured as a result of his confession obtained under duress. He relies on Articles 3 (prohibition of torture) and 6 (right to a fair trial).
The application was lodged with the European Court of Human Rights on 15 June 2005 and declared admissible on 10 April 2007. In a judgment of 30 June 2008, the Court held, by six votes to one, that the applicant could no longer claim to be the victim of a violation of Article 3; and, that there had been no violation of Article 6. On 1 December 2008, the case was referred to the Grand Chamber at the applicant’s request.
Composition of the Court
The case will be heard by the Grand Chamber composed as follows:
Costa (France), President,
Christos Rozakis (Greece),
Nicolas Bratza (the United Kingdom),
Françoise Tulkens (Belgium),
Josep Casadevall (Andorra),
Anatoly Kovler (Russia),
Ljiljana Mijović (Bosnia and Herzegovina)
Renate Jaeger (Germany),
Sverre Erik Jebens (Norway),
Danutė Jočienė (Lithuania),
Ján Šikuta (Slovakia),
Ineta Ziemele (Latvia),
George Nicolaou (Cyprus),
Luis López Guerra (Spain),
Ledi Bianku (Albania),
Ann Power (Ireland),
Nebojša Vučinić (Montenegro), judges,
Giorgio Malinverni (Switzerland),
Nina Vajić (Croatia),
David Thór Björgvinsson (Iceland), substitute judges,
and also Erik Fribergh, Registrar.
Representatives of the parties
Government: Almut Wittling-Vogel, Agent,
Jochen Abr. Frowein, Counsel,
Michael Bornmann, Justus Koch, Advisers;
Applicant: Michael Heuchemer, Dirk Schmitz, Bernhard von Becker, Counsel,
Joachim Schulz-Tornau, Adviser,
Stefan Ströhm, Max Bolsinger, Assistants.
After the hearing the Court will begin its deliberations, which are held in private. Judgment will be delivered at a later date1.
Piedimonte (telephone : 00 33 (0)3 90 21 42 04)
Tracey Turner-Tretz (telephone : 00 33 (0)3 88 41 35 30)
Paramy Chanthalangsy (telephone : 00 33 (0)3 88 41 28 30)
Kristina Pencheva-Malinowski (telephone : 00 33 (0)3 88 41 35 70)
Céline Menu-Lange (telephone : 00 33 (0)3 90 21 58 77)
The European Court of Human Rights was set up in Strasbourg by the Council of Europe Member States in 1959 to deal with alleged violations of the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights.
1 This summary by the Registry does not bind the Court.