The 1997 Constitution of the Republic of Poland explicitly protects the "legal protection of the life of every human being"Art. 38, 1997 Constitution of Poland.and their right to freedom from torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.Art. 40, 1997 Constitution of Poland.Also explicitly protected are "personal inviolability and security", which "shall be ensured to everyone."Art. 41, 1997 Constitution of Poland.
According to Article 57:
The freedom of peaceful assembly and participation in such assemblies shall be ensured to everyone. Limitations upon such freedoms may be imposed by statute.
|1966 Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)||State Party|
|ICCPR Optional Protocol 1||State Party|
|1984 Convention against Torture (CAT)||State Party|
|Competence of CAT Committee to receive individual complaints||Yes|
|CAT Optional Protocol 1||State Party|
1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court
|1950 European Convention on Human Rights||State Party|
Police Use of Force
Law enforcement in Poland is typically conducted by the National Police (Policja). The primary legislation governing police use of force in Poland is the 1990 Police Act. Article 16(1) of this law authorises the police to use a range of less-lethal means to arrest or detain an individual or prevent his or her escape:
(1) physical, technical and chemical means used for overpowering or escorting people and stopping vehicles,
(3) liquid incapacitating agents,
(4) police dogs and horses,
(5) non-explosive bullets shot from firearms.
Article 17 governs police use of firearms. It sets out in detail the conditions under which the police may have recourse to firearms:
(1) to defend against direct and unlawful assault against life, health or freedom of the police officer or other person and to counteract actions leading directly to such assault,
(2) against a person who ignores the call to immediately drop weapon or other dangerous tool, the use of which may threat life, health or freedom of the police officer or other person,
(3) against a person who attempts lawlessly and by force to seize firearms from the police officer or other person authorised to carry weapon,
(4) to defend against dangerous direct, violent assault against facilities and devices important for the country’s safety and defence, on the seats of principal authorities, principal and central state administration authorities or the judiciary, on facilities of economy and national culture and on diplomatic missions and consular offices of foreign countries or international organisations, as well as facilities supervised by armed protection unit established pursuant to the separate provisions,
(5) to defend an assault against property posing direct threat to human life, health, or freedom,
(6) in direct pursuit of a person, against whom the use of arms was permissible in cases determined in Subparagraphs (1)-(3) and (5), or in relation to a person reasonably suspected of homicide, terrorist attack, kidnapping a person for ransom or specific behaviour, robbery, robbing with violence, racket, intentional serious body injury, rape, arson or otherwise intentionally bringing public danger to life or health,
(7) to detain a person referred to in subparagraph 6, if that person took shelter in a place difficult to access, and the concurrent circumstances prove that the person may use firearm or other dangerous tool, the use of which may threat life or health,
(8) to defend against violent, direct and unlawful assault against escort of persons, documents containing state secret messages, money or other valuables,
(9) to detain a person or prevent escape of a detainee, remandee or a person serving a sentence of imprisonment, if:
(a) escape of a person serving a sentence of imprisonment poses threat to human life or health,
(b) there is justified suspicion that a detainee may use firearm, explosives or a dangerous tool,
(c) detention took place in relation to a justified suspicion or determination of crime referred to in subparagraph 6. ...
3. Firearms should be used in a way doing the least possible damage to the person against whom the firearm was used.
4. The Council of Ministers shall establish, by way of ordinance, detailed conditions and procedure for using firearms, and the principles of using firearms by the units referred to in Paragraph 2.
While some of these provisions comply with international law and standards, the possibilities to use potentially lethal force purely to protect property, or other than to confront, where strictly necessary, an imminent threat of death of serious injury of a proximate and grave threat to life, do not.
In 2018, an instrument regulating the use of electroshock (TASER) weapons by the police entered into force. In its 2017 report to Poland, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) stated that
it should be made clear to all police staff that electric discharge weapons may only be used when there is a real and immediate threat to life or risk of serious injury. Recourse to such weapons for the sole purpose of securing compliance with an order is inadmissible.
The state prosecutor can decide to charge law enforcement officials with excessive use of force, but the investigation is performed by the police themselves under the prosecutor's direction. Owing to concern about the lack of accountability of the police, a national strategy for the prevention of human rights violations by police officers was adopted in March 2015.
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies
In its 2019 Concluding Observations on Poland, the Committee against Torture expressed its serious concern about
reports of excessive use of force by the police, including with electric discharge weapons (tasers), against arrested persons who were handcuffed or otherwise immobilized, despite the fact that the law stipulates that force may be used only to ensure compliance with police orders.
In its 2016 Concluding Observations on Poland, the Human Rights Committee expressed its concern about "the excessive use of force by law enforcement officers and prison service officers and that criminal proceedings against law enforcement officers and prison service personnel are seldom conducted...."
Jabłońska v. Poland (2020)
The applicant, Teresa Jabłońska, argued that the death of her son following an attempt to arrest him during a routine police check was a violation of the right to lfie. On 18 June 2013 the applicant’s son, D.J., was stopped at a police checkpoint for a random search of his car. The officers found two small packets of white powder and decided to arrest him. When he started to walk away, two officers tried but failed to overpower him and a struggle ensued with six more officers who arrived on the scene. After the officers managed to restrain and handcuff him, they realised that he was not breathing. All resuscitation attempts, by two officers, two passing paramedics and an ambulance crew called to the scene, were unsuccessful, and D.J. was pronounced dead on site. Criminal proceedings were instituted the next day and the prosecuting authorities took witness statements and collected evidence. The autopsy concluded that the cause of death had been acute cardiorespiratory failure related to a chronic circulatory insufficiency. It noted, however, that neck injuries found on D.J. might also have had an impact on his death.
The Court noted that the investigation
did not provide clear answers to a number of major questions arising in the case, specifically: exactly how the officers had used force against the applicant; what was the origin and consequences of D.J.’s neck injuries; and whether there was any causal link between the force used by the police officers and D.J.’s death. ...
With regard to D.J.’s neck injuries, the investigation did not clearly establish how they could have been caused and what were their consequences.... At the same time, although the forensic expert who had conducted the post-mortem examination concluded that D.J.’s neck injuries might have had an impact on his death, and Dr A.B. also stated that the strong pressure on D.J.’s neck had exposed him to a direct risk of death or grievous bodily harm...., the prosecutor nevertheless concluded that those injuries had no connection with D.J.’s death....
Wasilewska and Kalucka v. Poland (2010)
This case before a chamber of the European Court of Human Rights concerned the use of lethal force by the Polish police. The Court accepted that the police officers had intervened in order to arrest persons suspected of belonging to a gang and being armed – among them Mr Kałucki. Indeed firearms had been found in Mr Kałucki’s car although there had been no evidence that Mr Kałucki or any other suspect had intended to use them. The police officers had opened fire allegedly with the purpose of stopping the escaping suspects, who, according to the authorities, had made an attempt on the life or physical integrity of a police officer. In the circumstances it could be argued that such danger had existed, and the use of firearms could be regarded as absolutely necessary before the suspects’ car had passed the police officer.
However, the majority of the shots had been fired at the escaping vehicle once it had passed the police officer who had been allegedly hit by it. At that moment there had been no direct danger to the police officer and the only intention of the police officers had been to prevent the escape of the suspects.
Serious issues had also arisen with the conduct and organisation of the operation. Although that had been a planned operation in which significant police forces had been deployed, it had been unclear whether the intervening officers had been clearly identifiable as being from the police. In addition, an order of their commanding officer appeared not to have been abided by the officers who had jumped out of their cars shooting at the suspects to stop their car instead of trying to arrest them as they had been ordered initially. The police had failed too to arrange for an ambulance to be present, as a result of which the victims had waited about 20 minutes for its arrival.
Finally, the Government had failed to submit any comments regarding the proportionality of the level of force used by the police, the organisation of the police action and whether an adequate legislative and administrative framework had been put in place to safeguard people against arbitrariness and abuse of force.
Consequently, the Court considered that the manner in which the police had responded and the degree of force used had not been strictly proportionate to the aim of preventing Mr Kałucki’s escape and arresting him or averting the perceived threat posed by him. Moreover, the operation had not been planned so as to reduce to a minimum recourse to lethal force. Accordingly there had been a violation of the right to life in respect of Mr Kałucki’s death.