Annual review of ECtHR Judgments – 2016

In 2016 the Court delivered several judgements of major importance regarding prisons. It identified a few “systemic problems”, namely: the detention conditions in Moldova (Mescereacov v. the Republic of Moldova, no. 61050/11); the detention of mentally-ill detainees in Belgium (W. D. v. Belgium, no. 73548/13); and the overuse of pre-trial detention without due justification in Russia (Zherebin v. Russia, no. 51445/09). The Grand Chamber delivered the awaited [GC] Muršić v. Croatia (no. 7334/13) judgment in which it clarified its position regarding prison overcrowding; and specified its criteria concerning life sentences in [GC] Murray v. the Netherlands (no.10511/10). Last, in the case of [GC] Blokhin v. Russia (no. 47152/06) the Court addressed several aspects of the detention of juvenile offenders – it refined its definition of a “detention for the purpose of educational supervision” as referred to in Art.5, specified the procedural rights of juveniles under Art.6 and detailed the contracting States’ obligations regarding the protection of the health of juvenile detainees.

In several judgments the Court recalled its position on important issues. Several violations of Art. 3 had been found due to the duration and severity of conditions under “dangerous detainee” status in Poland (Karykowski v. Poland, no. 653/12, Prus v. Poland, no. 5136/11, Romaniuk v. Poland, no. 59285/12, Paluch v. Poland, no. 57292/12, Świderski v. Poland, no. 5532/10, Karwowski v. Poland, no. 29869/13, Pugžlys v. Poland no. 446/10, Klibisz v. Poland, no. 2235/02).

The Court had the opportunity to consider the matter of detention of persons of unsound mind, particularly from the standpoint of the necessity of the prolongation of their detention (Bergmann v. Germany, no. 23279/14; Blühdorn v. Germany, no. 62054/12; Klinkenbuß v. Germany, no. 53157/11; Petschulies v. Germany, no. 6281/13; Van Zandbergen v. Belgium, no. 4258/11).

Regarding the protection of imprisoned persons’ health, the Court delivered, among many others, two noteworthy judgments. In its judgment in the case of Korneykova and Korneykov v. Ukraine (no. 56660/12) the Court not only examined the applicant’s conditions of detention but also evaluated the adequacy of the medical care provided for her newborn child. In the Wenner v. Germany (no. 62303/13) judgment the Court declared that prison authorities are under a procedural obligation to seek independent medical advice on the appropriate treatment for drug-addicted prisoners.

The Court also recalled that an indiscriminate ban on prisoners’ voting right breaches the Convention (Kulinski and Sabev v. Bulgaria, no. 63849/09).

In its decision in the case of Žirovnický v. The Czech Republic (nos. 60439/12 and 73999/12) the Court declared that the remedies available to Czech detainees to complain about their detention conditions were found to be effective. Conversely, the Court stated that there was no effective remedy available to Hungarian detainees in this respect (Bandur v. Hungary, no. 50130/12).

The Court also recalled that prisoners should be able to avail themselves of the opportunity to report alleged irregularities and make complaints against public officials “without having to fear that they will suffer negative consequences for doing so” (Shabanov and Palfreeman v. Bulgaria, nos. 35365/12 and 69125/12, see §64) and that domestic courts should consider all appropriate procedural arrangements so as to enable the applicants to be heard and to appear in person in proceedings to which they are parties (Yevdokimov and Others v. Russia, no. 27236/05).

The Court was called upon to rule on issues relatively untouched by its jurisprudence. In Meier v. Switzerland (no. 10109/14), it had to rule for the first time on the issue of work-related rights in detention from the standpoint of forced labour. In Chernetskiy v. Ukraine (no. 44316/07) it had to consider the implication of the “Right to marry” enshrined in Art. 12: the applicant complained that he was unable to remarry as it was impossible for him to obtain a copy of the divorce certificate whilst in prison. In Biržietis v.Lithuania (no. 49304/09), the Court declared that the absolute prohibition for a detainee to grow a beard in detention was in breach of Art. 8. A breach of Art. 8 had also been found in Siemaszko and Olszyński v. Poland (nos. 60975/08 and 35410/09) due to the obligation imposed on the applicants to place sums of their prison earning into a deposit account in order to constitute a kitty that would be available to them on their final release. In Kalda v. Estionia (no.17429/10), the Court considered that there had been a violation of Art.10 due to the authorities’ refusal to grant the applicant access to several website, thereby preventing him from carrying out legal research.