The family of a Yorkshire man who committed suicide while in the care of a mental hospital have won compensation at the European Court of Human Rights.
The ruling will in all probability see a change in the law.
David Reynolds, 35, was admitted to the Independent Support Moving on Scheme Unit in Halifax, after he was assessed as being a low suicide risk at Calderdale Royal Hospital.
Mr Reynolds, who suffered with schizophrenia, took his own life hours after arriving at the unit, where he broke a sixth floor window and jumped out.
The coroner entered an ‘open’ verdict at the inquest into his death despite Mr Reynolds complaining of voices telling him to take his life.
The man’s mother, Patricia Reynolds, launched a compensation claim against the health authority under the Human Rights Act, but it was struck out by a county court judge and she was told she had no prospect of appealing against the decision, as she was not financially dependent upon her son, and as his death was sudden there was no viable way of determining Mr Reynolds’s “pain and suffering”.
Subsequently, despite the health authority having a duty of care towards her son, she had no viable cause of action to claim compensation.
The European Court of Human Rights, however, disagreed. Despite Mrs Reynolds passing away, her daughter, Catherine King, took the case to Strasbourg, where the court found in her favour.
The court ruled that under English Law, Mrs Reynolds had been denied an “effective remedy” for the death of her son, which breached Article 13 and Article 2 of the Human Rights Act.
The European Court Panel said: “The windows have since been reinforced and the long-term plan is to transfer the ISMOS unit to a two-storey building.
“In those circumstances, the court considers that there is an arguable claim that the position of the applicant’s son was such that an operational duty arose to take reasonable steps to protect him from a real and immediate risk of suicide and that that duty was not fulfilled.
“The applicant had no prospect of obtaining adequate compensation for the non-pecuniary damage suffered by her as a result of the death of her child.
“The court has, therefore, concluded that the present applicant did not have available to her, prior to the introduction of her application to this court, civil proceedings to establish any liability and compensation due as regards the non-pecuniary damage suffered by her on her son’s death.
“The court, therefore, concludes that there has been a violation of Article 13, in conjunction with Article 2 of the Convention.”
Mrs King was awarded €7000 and the UK Government was ordered to pay €8000 in legal costs.