Legal Resources

MARCH 2023

3 countries

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.

HORVÁTH AND OTHERS v. HUNGARY Applications nos. 12143/16 and 11 others

Life imprisonment with a prospect of release only after serving 30 to 40 years: violation of Article 3.

Read more

DELTUVA v. LITHUANIA Application no. 38144/20

Restriction of remand prisoner’s family visits with wife and ten-year-old daughter during first nine months of detention based on unsubstantiated risk of interference with ongoing investigation: violation of Article 8.

Read more

USLU v. TÜRKIYE Application no. 51590/19

Seizure of a notebook from a prisoner for security reasons having no legal basis in domestic legislation: violation of Article 10.

Read more

HORVÁTH AND OTHERS v. HUNGARY Applications nos. 12143/16 and 11 others First Section Committee 2 March 2023

Art 3 Life imprisonment with prospect of release only after serving 30 to 40 years ■ Sentence cannot be regarded as reducible

Facts The twelve applicants are prisoners serving a life imprisonment sentence. They complained that their sentences constitute inhuman and degrading punishment as they could be released on parole only after having served a minimum term of between 30 and 40 years.

Law Article 3

The Court first recalled that according to its well-established case law, the “automatic review of a sentence after a specified minimum term represents an important safeguard for the prisoner against the risk of detention in violation of Article 3” (para. 10, see Hutchinson v. the United Kingdom [GC], no. 57592/08, 2017 and Vinter and Others v. the United Kingdom [GC], nos. 66069/09 and 2 others, 2013).

In the present case, the Court observed that although “national law and practice therefore afford the possibility of a dedicated judicial review of the life sentences imposed on the applicants” (para. 11), they will only be eligible to be considered for release after serving thirty to forty years of their sentences, which is a significantly longer period than the maximum of twenty-five years established in its case law (see Vinter, para. 120).

The Court rejected the Government’s position that seven of the applicants will in practice have to serve less than thirty years after the imposition of their life sentences in order to be considered for conditional release, since the period spent in pre-trial detention was included in the calculation, as it “does not change the fact that the term to be served before they are eligible to be considered for parole was set at thirty years, and that the review would take place more than twenty-five years after the imposition of their life sentences” (para. 15, see also Bodein v. France, no. 40014/10, 2014).
In light of the above, the Court concluded that the sentence imposed on the applicants in the present case could not be regarded as reducible, in breach of Article 3.

Conclusion Violation of Article 3.

Article 41 The finding of a violation constitutes sufficient just satisfaction for non-pecuniary damage sustained by the applicants.

DELTUVA v. LITHUANIA  Application no. 38144/20 Second Section  21 March 2023

Article 8 ■ Family life  Restriction on remand prisoner’s family visits with wife and ten-year-old daughter, resulting in only one visit granted during first nine months of detention  Authorities’ failure to substantiate possible risk of applicant interfering with the investigation by using his family  Applicant’s proposals for alternative visiting arrangements in the presence of his lawyer or an investigating officer, as provided for in domestic law, not properly considered  Restriction not “necessary in a democratic society”

Facts In November 2019, the applicant was arrested and remanded in detention on suspicion of playing a leading role in drug smuggling. During the first nine months of his detention despite several requests, the prosecutor only granted the applicant one visit from his wife and his then ten-year-old daughter on the grounds such visits might interfere with the success of the criminal investigation. The granted request had been accompanied by a psychologist report that had assessed the applicant’s daughter as suffering from great stress and anxiety because of the inability to see her father and recommended contact as soon as possible.
In August 2020 the prosecutor granted the applicant the right to receive two monthly contactless visits from his wife and daughter. In November 2020 the applicant was released and placed under close supervision at his home. The criminal proceedings are still pending.

Law Article 8

The restriction on the applicant receiving family visits during the first nine months of his detention on remand had constituted an interference with his right to respect for his family life. The restriction had been in accordance with the law and had pursued the legitimate aim of prevention of disorder or crime. The Court, however, considered it had not been necessary in a democratic society for the following reasons.Certain restrictions on the applicant’s contact with the outside world had been reasonably necessary in view of the organised nature of the crimes of which he had been suspected, the fact not all the suspects had yet been identified and various investigative measures were still being carried out during the time he had been detained. However, States were required to consider the interests of the prisoner and his or her family members and to evaluate them not in terms of broad generalities but in relation to the specific situation.

The decisions to grant the applicant one visit from his wife and daughter and subsequently two family visits per month had been taken after an individualised assessment of his situation. However, during the remainder of his detention on remand, the authorities’ refusals to grant the applicant visits from his wife and daughter had been based essentially on the argument that he might seek to interfere with the investigation by using them. The domestic authorities had failed to substantiate why they had considered such a risk to be present in their particular circumstances. The applicant’s wife and daughter had not been suspects or witnesses to the criminal proceedings, the authorities had not challenged the applicant’s assertion that they had not had any connection to the other suspects and had not been familiar with the criminal case or alleged that they had attempted in any way to interfere with the investigation.

The authorities had accorded significant weight when refusing the applicant family visits on the fact that, on two occasions, he had unlawfully obtained a mobile phone while in detention without it having been established that he had used it in ways which could have undermined the success of the investigation. There had also been no indication that the authorities had properly considered the applicant’s proposals that family visits could have taken place in the presence of his lawyer or an investigating officer. At the material time, the domestic law had provided for contactless visits in the presence of a representative of the detention facility, and visits could be terminated for breaches of visiting rules. Accordingly, the domestic authorities had failed to demonstrate that allowing the applicant to meet with his wife and daughter under special visiting arrangements would have jeopardised the investigation.

Furthermore, at the material time, the applicant’s daughter had been ten years old. The Court took note of the relevant international material regarding the importance for children of maintaining a bond with their incarcerated parents. Indeed, the distress that had been suffered by the applicant’s daughter because of the inability to see her father had been established by a psychologist and acknowledged by the domestic authorities on the one occasion when a family visit had been granted. Although the authorities had appeared to question the closeness of the applicant’s relationship with his daughter, the Court found it difficult to accept that their subjective assessment questioning the strength of a detainee’s family bonds could be decisive for refusing family visits. Lastly, the domestic authorities had not provided any explanation of how a visit from a ten-year-old child could have affected the success of the criminal proceedings.

Conclusion Violation of Article 8 (unanimously).

Article 41 EUR 5,000 in respect of non-pecuniary damage.

© Council of Europe/European Court of Human Rights

USLU v. TÜRKIYE  Application no. 51590/19 Second Section Committee  21 March 2023

Art 10 Freedom of expression  Seizure of a detainee’s manuscripts  Security grounds  No legal basis for interference

Facts The applicant, a pre-trial detainee at the material time, complained of the seizure by the prison administration of the paper notebooks belonging to him. The notebooks contained “drafts of the applicant’s defence submissions before the national courts, notes addressed to his family and notes describing his experiences during the pending criminal proceedings against him” (para. 3). The seizure of the notebooks was carried out on the grounds that some prisoners suspected of belonging to an organisation declared terrorist in Türkiye (FETÖ/PDY) used notebooks for communication between themselves. Another reason given for seizure of the applicant’s private notebooks was that some of them also contained information, such as names and statements, capable of revealing the identity of third parties, which posed a security risk.
The applicant’s attempts to challenge the prison administration decision before national courts (ordinary courts and Constitutional Court) were unsuccessful. The applicant’s notebooks were returned to him ten months after they had been seized. He was released from prison one month later.

Law Article 10

(a) Admissibility

The Court decided to examine the applicant’s complaint only under Article 10, thus setting aside the elements of his application alleging a violation of Articles 6 § 1, 8 and 9.

The Court dismissed three objections as to admissibility raised by the Government. First, concerning the first objection that the applicant had lost his victim status as the notebooks had been returned, the Court declared that the mere fact of returning the items “does not entail an acknowledgement of a breach of Article 10 of the Convention and is thus not sufficient to deprive him of victim status” (para. 12).

Second, the Government claimed that the applicant did not exhaust all available remedies as he should have applied for compensation. The Court rejected this claim, arguing that the remedy mentioned by the Government cannot be considered effective and available as the authorities “did not present any example of judgments delivered by domestic judicial authorities accepting compensation claims in similar circumstances” (para. 13). Furthermore, the Court observed that the Constitutional Court found the applicant’s complaint to be inadmissible because it was manifestly ill-founded and not for failure to exhaust available remedies.

Finally, the Government argued that the Turkish Constitutional Court had already examined the complaint on the merits and declared it inadmissible. In response, the Court declared that “the argument put forward by the applicant raises issues requiring an examination of the merits of the complaint under Article 10 of the Convention” (para. 14).

(b) Merits

The Court considered that the contested seizure of the notebooks, which “contained accounts of [the applicant’s] feelings and experiences relating to the criminal proceedings he faced” constituted an interference with his right to freedom of expression. As regards the legal basis for such interference, the Court accepted the applicant’s argument that the legal provision put forward by the Government covers solely cell searches, and not the seizure of prisoners’ manuscripts. The Court recalled it found in previous cases “that there was no legal basis in Turkish domestic law for the seizure of a detainee’s manuscript under any circumstances” (para. 18, see i.a Günana and Others v. Türkiye, nos. 70934/10, 2018 and Murat Türk v. Türkiye [Committee], no. 20686/19, 2022). The impugned interference was therefore not prescribed by law, in breach of Article 10.

Conclusion Violation of Article 10 (unanimously).

Article 41 The finding of a violation constitutes in itself sufficient just satisfaction for non-pecuniary damage; EUR 35 for pecuniary damage.

In partnership with: