Germany reprimanded by European human rights court | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 14.04.2011
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Germany reprimanded by European human rights court

The European Court of Human Rights has again slammed Germany's system of "preventive detention" for violent offenders. The ruling puts still more pressure on the German justice system to rethink the measure.

Handcuffed hands

Offenders still behind bars will profit from reforms

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has once more criticized Germany's system of "preventive detention," under which violent offenders can be kept in prison even after their court sentence is over.

The Strasbourg court ruled on Thursday that Germany had offended against the principle of "no penalty without a law" and the right to freedom.

The ruling came in response to a court case brought by a sexual offender from the German state of Baden-Württemberg who was originally sentenced to three years in prison but was incarcerated for altogether 17 years after preventive detention was applied.

Retroactive detention

The man had first been sentenced to ten years' further detention in 1992 after his original prison term. The detention was then extended in 2002, applying a law introduced only in 1998 that allowed offenders to retroactively receive indefinite periods of preventive detention.

The man was released in 2009.

German courts had extended his period of detention for fear that he might reoffend.

Violation of European convention

European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg

The Strasbourg court wants Germany to reform its detention practices

The human rights court recognized that the German justice system's intention was to protect "potential victims from suffering." But it said that states were not allowed to apply measures that violated the European Convention on Human Rights.

The ECHR has ordered Germany to pay the man around 31,000 euros ($44,800) in compensation for the seven years of improper imprisonment and his legal costs. The man had originally demanded some 300,000 euros in compensation.

System under reform

Germany has already introduced a number of reforms to its system of preventive detention in response to the criticisms from Strasbourg. Among other things, indefinite "preventive detention" can no longer be applied retroactively as of January 1 this year.

The German Constitutional Court is looking at the issue of preventive detention, but has not yet come to a final conclusion.

Author: Timothy Jones (dpa, AFP)
Editor: Andreas Illmer

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