In 2017 the Court tackled two major topics related to the prison system.
First, it delivered a pilot-judgment regarding the detention conditions in Romanian prisons and police cells (Rezmiveș and Others v. Romania, no. 61467/12 and others). The Court made several suggestions to reduce prison overcrowding (a wider range of alternative penalties to detention; relaxation of the conditions for waiving the imposition of a sentence, deferring sentencing or granting conditional release; and satisfactory operation of the probation service) and encouraged the introduction of effective compensatory and preventive remedies.
Second, in two major judgments, the Court ruled on the complex issue of the implementation of policies of positive gender-based discrimination. On the one hand, in the Khamtokhu and Aksenchik v. Russia (nos. 60367/08 and 961/11) judgment, it analysed the Russian law providing that a life sentence cannot be imposed on women, or on persons under 18 when the offence was committed or over 65 at the date of conviction. On the other hand, in the Alexandru Enache v. Romania (no.16986/12) judgment it ruled on the fact that according to Romanian legislation only convicted mothers of children under the age of one can obtain a stay of execution of their prison sentences until their child’s first birthday. In both cases the Court declared that a wide margin of appreciation had to be left to the authorities of respondent States, observed that there was “a reasonable relationship of proportionality between the means employed and the legitimate aim pursued” (Khamtokhu and Aksenchik v. Russia , §87), and concluded that there had been no violation of the Convention. Judges Pinto de Albuquerque and Judge Bošnjak, in a dissenting opinion to the judgment Khamtokhu and Aksenchik v. Russia (for Judge Pinto de Albuquerque) and in a partly dissenting opinion to the judgment Alexandru Enache v. Romania (for both Judges Pinto de Albuquerque and Judge Bošnjak) regretted that the Court had not seized the opportunity to put an end to these positive discrimination policies and bring about an upwards harmonisation of the Romanian and Russian legislations.
In several judgments the Court recalled its position on important issues.
As in 2016, it found several violations of Article 3 due to the duration and severity of conditions under “dangerous detainee” status in Poland (Michał Korgul v. Poland, no. 36140/11; Dejnek v. Poland, no. 9635/13).
The Court delivered several important judgments regarding the prolongation of the detention of persons of unsound mind (Ilnseher v. Germany, no. 10211/12, Rooman v. Belgium, no. 18052/11, Lorenz v. Austria, no. 11537/11, D.J. v. Germany, no. 45953/10). In this respect, the European Prison Litigation Network submitted a third-party intervention in the case Ilnseher v. Germany referred to the Grand Chamber.
In several judgments the Court recalled the importance of the maintenance of family ties for the sake of social rehabilitation of prisoners (Polyakova and Others v. Russia, nos. 35090/09 and others; Pakhtysov v. Russia, no. 11800/10; Vladimir Nikolayevich Fedorov v. Russia, no. 48974/09; Lebois v. Bulgaria, no. 67482/14; Moroz v. Ukraine, no. 5187/07).
The Court delivered two important judgments regarding life sentence. On the one hand, the Grand Chamber ruled in the Hutchinson v. the United Kingdom (no. 57592/08) judgment that the procedure for review of life sentences in England and Wales met the requirements of Article 3. In a dissenting opinion, Judge Pinto de Albuquerque strongly opposed this analysis. On the other hand, conversely, the Court considered that life sentences imposed in Lithuania offered no genuine prospect of release (Matiošaitis and Others v. Lithuania, no. 22662/13 and others).
The Court was called upon to rule on less common issues
In the judgment Jankovskis v. Lithuania (no. 21575/08) the Court considered that the restriction placed on a prisoner’s access to a State-ruled Internet site providing educational information amounted to a violation to his freedom to receive information. The Court observed in particular that the Lithuanian authorities “essentially focussed on the legal ban on prisoners having Internet access as such, instead of examining the applicant’s argument that access to a particular website was necessary for his education” (§61).
In the judgment Sarıgül v. Turkey (no. 28691/05) the Court considered that the Turkish law governing scrutiny of prisoners’ correspondence did not meet the requirement of foreseeability. In the instant case the authorities had seized a prisoner’s handwritten draft of a novel.
In the judgment Moroz v. Ukraine mentioned above the Court found a violation of the applicant’s freedom of religion as the authorities seized his religious literature and items and rejected his requests to visit the prison chapel.
In the judgment Michał Korgul v. Poland also mentioned above, the applicant complained that “when receiving a sum of money from his family, half of that amount had been placed in a special account to which he had had no access prior to his release” (§47). The Court considered that the States “have a wide margin of appreciation under Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 when it comes to general measures of economic or social strategy” (§54), and declared that “a State has the right to use such schemes as it deems most appropriate for the reintegration of prisoners into society upon their release, including by securing for them a certain amount of money” (§55).