Case-law concerning detention and prison
The Court's Press Service has compiled Factsheets by theme on the Court’s case-law and pending cases.
These factsheets are available on the Court's website (www.echr.coe.int/ECHR/EN/Header/Press/Information+sheets/Factsheets)
We summarized some of them for our readers and recommend to visit the Court's website on these topics.
- Solitary confinement
1. A Moldovan politician was detained for eight years in very strict isolation, before his conviction and sentence to death for a number of terrorist-related offences was de facto quashed and he was released in 2001.
While on death row, he had no contact with other prisoners, no news from the outside and no right to contact his lawyer or receive regular visits from his family. His cell was unheated, he was deprived of food as a punishment and he was able to take showers only very rarely. These conditions and a lack of medical care caused his health to deteriorate.
The European Court of Human Rights held that as a whole these conditions amounted to torture, in violation of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
E.C.H.R. (Grand Chamber), 8.7.2004, Ilascu and Others v. Moldova and Russia (no. 48787/99)
2. An international terrorist was detained in solitary confinement in France for eight years following his conviction for terrorist-related offences. He was segregated from other prisoners, but had access to TV and newspapers, and was allowed to receive visits from family and lawyers.
The European Court of Human Rights held that there had been no violation of Article 3, having regard in particular to applicant’s character and the danger he posed, the conditions in which he had been held had not reached the minimum level of severity necessary to constitute inhuman or degrading treatment.
The European Court of Human Rights underlined that solitary confinement, even in cases entailing only relative isolation, could not be imposed on a prisoner indefinitely. A State had to periodically review a prisoner’s solitary confinement, give reasons for any decision to continue segregation and monitor the prisoner’s physical and mental condition.
E.C.H.R., (Grand Chamber), 04.07.2006, Ramirez Sanchez v. France (no 59450/00)
- Forced feeding
The applicant spent two years and ten month in pre-trial detention between 1997 and 2000. In the course of his detention, he went on hunger strike on a number of occasions and was subjected to forced feeding.
The European Court of Human Rights found a violation of Article 3 : a measure such as forced feeding could not be considered degrading if it was necessary to save a person’s life. However, the Government had not demonstrated that force-feeding had been medically necessary in the applicant’s case. Moreover, the manner of forced feeding, involving handcuffs, a mouth-widener and a special rubber tube inserted into the food channel, had amounted to torture.
E.C.H.R., 05.04.2005, Nevmerzhitsky v. Ukraine (54825/00)
- Compulsory medical intervention
The applicant, suspected of drug dealing, was administered an emetic in hospital against his will to make him regurgitate bags containing drugs.
The European Court of Human Rights held that there had been a violation of Article 3 and noted that the prosecuting authorities could have waited for the drugs to pass out of his system naturally, that being the method used by many other Convention States to investigate drug offences.
The forced administration of an emetic posed a health risk, seeing that the method had caused two deaths in Germany. Moreover, the administration in Mr Jalloh’s case, forcibly by a tube, must have caused him pain and anxiety.
E.C.H.R. (Grand Chamber), 11.07.2006, Jalloh v. Germany (n°54810/00)
- Hygienic condition of cells
The applicant spent almost five years in pre-trial detention before he was acquitted in 2000 and complained about the conditions in the detention, particularly that his cell was overcrowded (17 m2 for 24 inmates).
Although the European Court of Human Rights accepted that there had been no indication of a positive intention to humiliate him, it considered that the conditions of detention had amounted to degrading treatment in violation of Article 3.
E.C.H.R. 15.7.2002 Kalashnikov v. Russia (47095/99)
- Strip searches of prisoners
1. During his detention on remand, the applicant asked for permission to vote in the parliamentary elections in 1993. He was told by prison guards that to be allowed to vote he would have to undress and undergo a body search. He began to take off his clothes, at which point the prison guards ridiculed him and abused him verbally. He was ordered to strip naked, refused, and was then taken back to his cell without being allowed to vote.
The European Court of Human Rights found that this behaviour amounted to degrading treatment, in violation of Article 3 : there had been no compelling reasons to find that the order to strip naked before the prison guards was necessary and justified for security reasons.
E.C.H.R.,15.11.2001, Iwańczuk v. Poland (n°25196/94)
2. Serving a sentence of life imprisonment for a number of offences including murder and armed robbery, the applicant was subjected to strip searches on a regular basis each time he left the visiting room in Fresnes prison, where he was kept between 1994 and 1996. When he refused, he was taken to a disciplinary cell.
The European Court of Human Rights held that there had been a violation of Article 3 : while it acknowledged that strip searches had been imposed in order to maintain security or prevent criminal offences, the Court was struck by the fact that, from one prison in which he was held to another, the search procedure varied. The Court could therefore understand that the prisoners concerned might feel that they were the victims of arbitrary measures, especially as the search procedure was laid down in a circular and allowed each prison governor a large measure of discretion.
E.C.H.R., 12.6.2007, Frérot v. France (n°70204/01)
- Multiple transfers
The applicant complained of his detention conditions and the security measures imposed on him as a “prisoner requiring special supervision”, in particular repeated transfers from one prison to another, prolonged periods in solitary confinement and systematic body searches.
The European Court of Human Rights held that there had been a violation of Article 3.
E.C.H.R., 09.07.2009, Khider v. France (n°39364/05)
- Medical assistance for mentally disabled prisoners
The applicant spent almost four years in detention on remand, suffering from chronic depression and twice tried to commit suicide.
He complained that he was not given adequate psychiatric treatment in detention, relying on Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
While the European Court of Human Rights did not find a violation of Article 3, it underlined that under this Article the State had to ensure that the manner of detention did not subject a prisoner to hardship of an intensity exceeding the unavoidable level of suffering inherent in detention and that his health and well-being were adequately secured by providing him with the requisite medical assistance.
E.C.H.R. (Grand Chamber), 26.10.2000, Kudla v. Poland (n°30210/96)
- Medical assistance for leukaemia
Serving a prison sentence of fifteen years, tha applicant was diagnosed with lymphatic leukaemia and underwent chemotherapy sessions in a hospital at daytime.
He was put in chains during the transport to the hospital and claimed that during the chemotherapy sessions his feet were chained and one of his wrists attached to the bed. He decided to stop the treatment, complaining of these conditions and of the guards’ aggressive behaviour towards him.
He was eventualy transferred to another prison in order to be closer to the hospital and finaly released on licence subject to an obligation to undergo medical treatment or care.
The European Court of Human Rights found that there had been a violation of Article 3 in respect of the period until the release on licence, holding in particular that although the applicants condition had become increasingly incompatible with his continued detention as his illness progressed, the prison authorities had failed to take any special measures.
E.C.H.R., 14.11.2002, Mouisel v. France (n°67263/01)
- Treatment of a physically disabled prisoner
A four-limb deficient thalidomide victim who also suffers from kidney problems, was committed to prison for contempt of court in the course of civil proceedings.
She was kept one night in a police cell, where she had to sleep in her wheelchair, as the bed was not specially adapted for a disabled person, and where she complained of the cold. She subsequently spent two days in a normal prison, where she was dependent on the assistance of male prison guards in order to use the toilet.
The European Court of Human Rights found that it constituted degrading treatment contrary to Article 3.
E.C.H.R., 10.7.2001, Price v. the United Kingdom (n°33394/96)
- Treatment of a drug addict prisoner
The vicitm, who had a long history of heroin addiction, was sentenced to four months’ imprisonment for theft. While in prison she manifested heroin-withdrawal symptoms, had frequent vomiting fits and significantly lost weight.
She was treated by a doctor and, as her condition worsened after one week in prison, admitted to hospital, where she died.
The European Court of Human Rights concluded that the prison authorities had failed to comply with their duty to provide her with the requisite medical care, in violation of Article 3.
E.C.H.R., 29.4.2003, McGlinchey and Others v. the United Kingdom (n°50390/99)