Forced psychiatric interventions; deprivation of freedom based on psychosocial disability

S.M., a national of Denmark, v.Denmark on violation of articles 14, 15 and 16, read in conjunction with article 4, and articles 17 and 25, of the Convention.

The author describes himself as a human rights activist who has been subjected to forced psychiatric interventions since 2011, as a result of which the author took an interest in the treatment of psychiatric patients in Denmark. In 2012, the author began sending threatening emails to various doctors and public officials responsible for psychiatric treatment. As a result, the author was charged for making multiple threats, and he was forcibly hospitalized. The author continued sending such emails thereafter.
In 2015, by order of the District Court, a psychiatric examination of the author was carried out. The conclusions of the examination were that he had been “of unsound mind” when he committed the alleged violations. In 2016, a supplementary examination was conducted, and the conclusions were that the author’s condition had not changed conclusively and that he exhibited clear symptoms of chronic paranoid psychosis.

The District Court also found the author guilty in relation to 31 counts of violations of sections 119 (1) and 121 of the Penal Code, on offences against public authority, section 266 of the Penal Code, on threats to commit a punishable act likely to induce serious fear concerning life, health or welfare, and section 21 (1) of the Act on Restraining Orders, Exclusion Orders and Expulsions. The District Court ordered the psychiatric treatment of the author, without indicating a time limit. In 2017, the author had been subjected to three years of forced psychiatric interventions and had been in pre-trial detention for six months.
The author argues that, pursuant to the State party’s legislation, persons considered “unfit to stand trial” on account of their impairment are not punished, but are instead sentenced to treatment. The author argues, however, that forced treatment is a “social control sanction” and should be replaced by formal criminal sanctions for offenders. In the present case, the author’s psychosocial condition was the only reason presented to explain why he had sent the emails. The author claims that he was not given an opportunity to respond to the charges in writing before the start of the trial, likely because he was regarded as “mentally ill”. The procedure applied to determine whether he should be sentenced was therefore not in accordance with the safeguards of a criminal trial, including the presumption of innocence. Psychiatrists investigated his emails for signs of “mental illness”, because of his long history in that regard, and the public prosecutor was therefore not obliged to criminally investigate the matter.

In 2016, the Board of Appeal to the Supreme Court decided not to grant the author leave to appeal. The author submits that he has therefore exhausted all available domestic remedies.
S.M. sent a submission to the CRPD. The author submits that the State party has breached his rights under article 14 of the Convention, as, given the considerations of the High Court, he was deprived of his liberty on the basis of his psychosocial disability. His sentence to forced treatment is without a time limit, whereas persons convicted of the same crime who do not have a psychosocial disability receive a much shorter prison sentence. The gravity of the violation is compounded by the author’s opposition to forced medical treatment. The indictment covers charges dating back to 2012, whereas the author was initially sent to undergo forced psychiatric interventions by the police, instead of being charged.
The author claims that the State party violated article 15 of the Convention, given that, during his time in the psychiatric system, he was forced to take certain medication without his consent. According to the author, the forced medical treatment is experimental and without any proven health effects.
The CRPD finds that the imposition of forced psychiatric treatment on the author was in breach of his rights under article 14 of the Convention.
The Committee also finds that the forced administration of medication on the author, which caused him pain to the point of rendering him suicidal, was in violation of his rights under article 17, read in conjunction with article 25, of the Convention.
The Committee is of the view that the State party has failed to fulfil its obligations under articles 14 and 17, read in conjunction with, article 25 of the Convention.

9. November 2023

CRPD 61/2019
  • Decision: 4 Oktober 2023
  • Comm: Disability