EGMR: Domestic authorities failed to thoroughly examine which therapy was appropriate for long-term drug addict in detention

In today’s Chamber judgment in the case of Wenner v. Germany (application no. 62303/13) the European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been: a violation of Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) of the European Convention on Human Rights. The case concerned the complaint by a long-term heroin addict that he had been denied drug substitution therapy in prison.

While the Court did not have to decide whether Mr Wenner had indeed needed drug substitution therapy, its task was to determine whether the German authorities had adequately assessed his state of health and the appropriate treatment. The Court came to the conclusion that the authorities, despite their obligation to that effect, had failed to examine with the help of independent and specialist medical expert advice, against the background of a change in Mr Wenner’s medical treatment, which therapy was to be considered appropriate.

Principal facts

The applicant, Wolfgang Adam Wenner, is a German national who was born in 1955. He has been addicted to heroin since 1973 and has been HIV-positive since 1988. Since 2001 he has been considered 100% disabled.

Over time Mr Wenner has unsuccessfully tried to overcome his addiction with various types of treatment. From 1991 to 2008 his addiction was treated with medically prescribed and supervised drug substitution therapy.

In 2008 Mr Wenner was arrested on suspicion of drug trafficking and placed in detention on remand in Kaisheim Prison, in the Land of Bavaria, where his drug substitution treatment was interrupted against his will. In June 2009 he was convicted of drug trafficking and – taking into account a previous conviction – sentenced to a total of six years’ imprisonment. The trial court also ordered his placement in a drug detoxification facility, to be executed after a period of six months’ detention ...

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