Legal Resources


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This compilation gathers the most important judgments and decisions on prison issues handed down by the European Court of Human Rights and the Court of Justice of the European Union. By reporting on the main trends in European prison case law, it aims to support legal practitioners in the prison field in their research and litigation, as well as to identify blind spots in European case law to build strategic litigation avenues.

GEANTĂ AND OTHERS v. ROMANIA Applications nos. 39920/16 and 11 others

Refusal to grant prison leave to detainees for the purpose of attending funerals of their close relatives: violation of Article 8.

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COMAN AND OTHERS v. HUNGARY Application nos. 49006/18 and 8 others

Life sentence with no prospect of release: violation of Article 3.

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MACHINA v. THE REPUBLIC OF MOLDOVA Application no. 69086/14

Authorities’ unreasonable delay in screening prisoner for hepatitis C and failure to investigate her complaints concerning infection while in prison; inadequate medical supervision: violation of Article 3.

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VOSKANYAN v. ARMENIA Application no. 623/13

Failure to conduct necessary steps in order to protect the life of a detainee, such as transfer to a civilian hospital: violation of Article 2 (substantive limb); failure to carry out an adequate and thorough investigation into the death of pre-trial detainee: violation of Article 2 (procedural limb).

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GEANTĂ AND OTHERS v. ROMANIA Applications nos. 39920/16 and 11 others Fourth Section Committee  12 January 2023

Art 8 Prisoners not allowed to attend funerals of their close relatives ■ Not necessary in a democratic society

Facts The applicants complained of the refusal of prison administration to grant them leave to attend funerals of their close family members.

Law Article 8

The Court first dismissed the Government’s objection that some of the applicants should have used the domestic remedies available (i.e. before the judge responsible for supervising the deprivation of liberty and the first action court, or via a tort action) as they cannot be regarded with a sufficient degree of certainty as effective remedies (see Kanalas v. Romania, no. 20323/14, 6 December 2016).

As regards the substance of the case, the Court referred to the landmark case Kanalas v. Romania (mentioned above), in which it had found a violation on issues similar to the ones examined in the cases at hand, and found no reason to depart from its previous conclusions. The Court concluded that refusal to grant leave in order to attend the funerals of close family members cannot be considered as “necessary in a democratic society” and constituted a violation of Article 8 § 1 of the Convention.

Conclusion Violation of Article 8 § 1..

COMAN AND OTHERS v. HUNGARY  Application nos. 49006/18 and 8 others First Section Committee  12 January 2023

Art 3 ■ Life imprisonment with no prospect of release  Requirement to serve at least forty years before applying for parole  Life sentence not reducible de facto

Facts The applicants, who were serving a life sentence, complained of having no possibility of release..

Law Article 3

As regards the Government’s objection that part of the applicants should have lodged a constitutional complaint against their sentencing judgments, the Court recalled it had previously rejected similar objections in a previous case and found no reason to depart from this conclusion (Sándor Varga and Others v. Hungary, nos. 39734/15 and 2 others, §§ 34-35, 17 June 2021).

As regards the possibility of release offered to the applicants to apply for early release, the Court made reference to a previous case in which it had held that “the fact that the applicants could have their release considered, by way of the mandatory pardon procedure, only after they had served forty years of their life sentences was sufficient to conclude that the new Hungarian legislation did not offer de facto reducibility of the applicants’ whole life sentences” (§8, see T.P. and A.T. v. Hungary, nos. 37871/14 and 73986/14, § 38, 4 October 2016). Finding no reason to depart from this previous conclusion, the Court concluded that there had been a violation of Article 3.

Conclusion Violation of Article 3

MACHINA v. THE REPUBLIC OF MOLDOVA  Application no. 69086/14 Second Section  17 January 2023

Art 3 (substantive and procedural)  Inhuman and degrading treatment  Prison authorities’ unreasonable delay in screening prisoner for hepatitis C  Failure to investigate applicant’s complaints concerning infection while in prison  Failure to take effective measures aimed at preventing transmission of contagious diseases in prison  Inadequate medical supervision and treatment in prison
Art 13 (+ Art 3)  Lack of effective remedy for inadequate medical care

Facts The applicant suffers from severe motor disabilities and was imprisoned between February 2011 and July 2016 serving a custodial sentence. The applicant was not screened for any transmissible diseases upon her arrival in prison but in February 2012, at her request, a blood test was conducted revealing she was infected with hepatitis C (HCV) and had chronic HCV with “[zero] activity”. She claimed she contracted the disease while undergoing a dental procedure in prison in May 2011. The applicant complained to various authorities on several occasions in this respect.

Law Article 3 (substantive and procedural)

(a) Alleged infection with HCV in prison

The primary responsibility of prison officials in charge of a detention facility was that of ensuring appropriate conditions of detention, including adequate healthcare for prisoners. The requirements imposed on a State with regard to detainees’ health may differ depending on whether the disease contracted was transmissible or non transmissible. The spread of transmissible diseases and, in particular, tuberculosis, hepatitis and HIV/Aids, should be a public health concern, especially in the prison environment. The Court considered it desirable that, with their consent, detainees undergo free screening tests for hepatitis and HIV/Aids within a reasonable time after their admission to prison. An unreasonable delay in screening for HCV was incompatible with the respondent State’s general obligation to take effective measures aimed at preventing the transmission of HCV and other contagious diseases in prisons.

The national authorities had found that the applicant’s allegations were unsubstantiated because there had been no information that the applicant had ever been tested for HCV prior to her detention. Although the applicant’s complaints had referred to concrete facts which could have been investigated, the national authorities had not carried out any investigation – internal, disciplinary or criminal – to assess the risk of infection in prison through dental services. The prison administration had not kept a record of HCV-infected inmates or carried out a simple check to investigate if any other inmates who had had dental services in the same period of time had been positive for HCV. While the material in the case file had not enabled the Court to conclude beyond all reasonable doubt that the applicant had contracted HCV after her incarceration, the difficulty in determining whether there had been any substance to her allegations had resulted from the lack of screening tests on arrival at the prison and the authorities’ subsequent failure to investigate her complaints effectively.

Those failures had been incompatible with the respondent State’s general obligation to take effective measures aimed at preventing the transmission of HCV and other contagious diseases in prisons.

Conclusion Violation (unanimously).

(b) Alleged inadequacy of medical care in prison

The applicant had been diagnosed with chronic HCV, therefore, it was essential for the applicant’s state of health to be assessed with a view to providing her with adequate treatment. The diagnosis had been of HCV in an inactive phase, but it was unclear how this was established considering that no assessment of viral load had been carried out throughout the entire duration of her detention. In this connection, it was irrelevant that the applicant had been receiving treatment, since, as a consequence of the lack of adequate medical examinations, the exact effect of HCV on her health had not been established and therefore she could not have been provided with adequate medical care. There had been no evidence that the applicant had ever been examined by a specialist doctor or that the prescribed HCV medication had ever actually been administered. Therefore, the Government had failed in discharging their burden of proof concerning the availability of adequate medical supervision and treatment of the applicant while she was in prison.

Conclusion Violation (unanimously).

Law Article 13

On account of the lack of adequate medical care for the applicant whilst she was in prison it had not been shown that there had been effective remedies available in respect of this complaint

Conclusion Violation (unanimously).

Article 41 EUR 9,800 awarded to the applicant in respect of non-pecuniary damage.

(See also Cătălin Eugen Micu v. Romania, 55104/13, 5 January 2016 and Blokhin v. Russia [GC], 47152/06, 23 March 2016)

© Council of Europe/European Court of Human Rights

VOSKANYAN v. ARMENIA  Application no. 623/13 Fourth Section Committee  24 January 2023

Art 2 Right to health • Inadequate medical care in detention ■ Medical condition requiring hospitalization and surgical treatment • Delayed hospital transfer that resulted in the detainee’s death ■ No effective investigation into the circumstances of death of detainee

Facts The applicant’s husband, Mr. Voskanyan, died in prison. He had been placed in pre-trial detention upon suspicion of murder and armed assault. After several days spent in detention, he claimed he had injected saliva under his skin and started presenting symptoms alerting to his deteriorating health (pain, swelling and hyperaemia in the left shin). He was examined by the prison doctor who prescribed medication (antibiotics, analgesics) and bandaging. A second doctor at the prison’s medical unit indicated that bandaging might not suffice, pointed out the risk of a spread of the infection, and requested instructions. A civilian hospital surgeon who visited Mr. Voskanyan approved the treatment prescribed so far. After a sharp deterioration in Mr. Voskanyan’s health, a decision was taken to transfer him to the Central Prison Hospital for urgent surgery. He died in detention on the same day this decision was taken. Investigations into the circumstances of the detainee’s death were initiated but were closed eight months later with the conclusion that the death was the result of self-harm and that no sufficient evidence could substantiate allegations of medical negligence by the prison doctor.

Law Article 2 (substantive)

The Court first reiterated that Mr. Voskanyan was under the control of the Armenian authorities while being detained. Therefore, regardless of the fact that the degradation of his health was caused by self-harm, it recalled that the authorities were still under the obligation of doing “everything reasonably possible, in good faith and in a timely manner, to try to avert the fatal outcome” (§ 20). The Court, therefore, analysed the circumstances in the present case for the purpose of identifying whether the Armenian Government conducted all necessary steps to protect Mr. Voskanyan’s life.

The Court observed that Mr. Voskanyan promptly informed the prison administration of his infected wound, and that his “poor clinical condition should have left no doubts as to the necessity of his immediate hospitalisation because of a serious and fast-spreading infection, gas gangrene, which did not respond to the treatment provided” (§ 25). Based on a report issued by a panel of forensic medical experts, the Court considered that the “prison authorities should have been aware of the risk that a delayed hospital transfer presented to [Mr. Voskanyan’s] life in the context of an unmanageable infection of such extent” (idem).

Conclusion Violation of Article 2 (substantive limb).

Law Article 2 (procedural)

As regards the investigation into the circumstances of the applicant’s husband’s death, the Court, while acknowledging that the authorities had taken a number of investigative steps (collection of statements from the doctor and the cellmates by the investigator, examination of the scene and the body, seizure of personal and medical files and assignment of an autopsy), observed that “the investigation did not go beyond the question of [the main doctor having examined the detainee]’s individual criminal responsibility, failing to examine the reason why the transfer [to a hospital] was not organised earlier and to identify those responsible” (§30). As a result, the Court concluded that the authorities failed to conduct a thorough investigation into the case.

Conclusion Violation of Article 2 (procedural limb).

Article 41 EUR 20,000 awarded to the applicant in respect of non‑pecuniary damage.

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