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The case concerns an incident that took place on October 25, 2020, at the Holy Cross Church in Warsaw. On that day, the Women's Strike initiative organized a protest with the slogan "The Word on Sunday" in churches all throughout Poland. It was a reaction to the enthusiasm and endorsement with which some of the senior clergymen welcomed the Constitutional Court’s decision to further restrict Poland’s abortion laws.
Angelika Domańska, a member of the Green Party, has been injured during the protest. Pictures of the event clearly show how the president of the nationalist Independence March Association, Robert Bąkiewicz, grabs her arm. Shortly afterwards, the woman was thrown down the flight of stairs onto the sidewalk, laying there for over 30 minutes before an ambulance arrived. In an interview, Ms. Domańska described the event as follows: - I was holding on to the railing very tightly, but they still managed to drag me down the stairs. Then, they threw me down, right through a group of police officers. As a matter of fact, I fell directly under the policemen's feet and hit my head on the sidewalk.
Ms. Domańska reported the case to the police. While it has been forwarded to the prosecutor's office, the district attorney ultimately decided to discontinue the investigation.
The prosecutor cites a „lack of public interest” in continuing the investigation
While the official letter from the Prosecutor's Office for the northern-central district of Warsaw regarding the discontinuance of the investigation dates back to December 28, Ms. Domańska's lawyer did not receive it until January 13. The letter, which has been signed by district attorney Michał Marcinkowski, states the following:
"There is no basis for concluding that it would be in the public’s interest to pursue a prosecution of the described act."
In his justification, the attorney also claims that “there are no grounds for pursuing the act [...] ex officio”, among other reasons, because the injured party is represented by a legal adviser, which implies that she can pursue her case by way of private prosecution. The prosecutor points out that this is because she can “submit an individual complaint to the Central District Court in Warsaw”.
Moreover, Mr. Marcinkowski states that the woman suffered the reported injuries as a result of “an unspecified external cause". The phrase appears three times throughout the document.
A woman is thrown down the church stairs. Who should assess her injury?
Deciding to discontinue the investigation, the prosecutor’s office qualified the incident as a "private criminal complaint", assuming that the injuries suffered by the victim "caused a damage to health lasting no longer than 7 days". According to Ms. Domańska’s lawyer Alicja Szpringer, the district attorney determined this arbitrarily without consulting an expert whose opinion has been requested.
- Had my client's injuries been assessed by an expert, there would be no doubt as to whether the act was a private criminal complaint or not- Ms. Szpringer said.
The lawyer also points out that the prosecutor's office acted in a way which in her opinion was far from usual. On November 5, Ms. Domańska gave the police an extensive report of the incident. The case files were taken over by the prosecutor's office already on November 12, and the victim’s lawyer could not access them. On December 15, the central district Police Headquarters in Warsaw announced the opening of an investigation, and only two weeks later, the prosecutor's office decided to drop it. Ms. Szpringer claims to have filed multiple motions with evidence, but they were all rejected. The prosecutor’s office did not consider them in its decision to discontinue the investigation.
- We don't know why the prosecutor's office took over the case files, nor why it had to wait an entire month to open an investigation – Ms. Szpringer said.
Criminal law expert: the prosecutor’s decision is legally flawed
We asked the prosecutor’s office to clarify both issues. We also inquired whether the district attorney appointed an expert to evaluate the victim’s injuries. The spokeswoman for the District Prosecutor's Office in Warsaw, Aleksandra Skrzyniarz, answered that taking over files by the prosecutor's office is nothing unusual and may take place at various stages of the investigation or even before that. It depends on the circumstances.
“There’s a reason why the prosecutor can take over the files even before launching the investigation,” says Brunon Holyst, a criminal law expert and professor at Łazarski University. - It can’t be that the prosecutor holds on to the files for an entire month, and only then, when the investigation has already begun, decides to dismiss it after two weeks, stating that nothing has been established during that time. What does it even mean that the injury has been the result of an unspecified external cause?- he comments.
The entire purpose of having access to files and police reports, and being able to call all possible witnesses, is precisely to determine all the circumstances – the expert concludes.
In his view, the same applies to the assessment of the victim’s injuries. Their severity can only be determined by an expert, not evaluated arbitrarily by the prosecutor himself. Asked to comment on the prosecutor’s decision, prof. Holyst called it “faulty, both legally and terminological”.
The prosecutor’s office did not comment
When asked whether it had questioned Mr. Bąkiewicz, the prosecutor’s office did not answer. We also inquired whether an expert had been appointed to assess the victim's injuries, why the prosecutor's office had taken over the file about a month before the investigation began, and on what basis did the district attorney consider Ms. Domańska's injuries to have been the result of an “unspecified external cause”?
The victim, Angelika Domańska, intends to file a complaint against the prosecutor's decision. If left unaddressed, the case will end up in court. – If they want to go to war, so be it - she says.
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