Refusal to allow a prisoner convicted of terrorist offences to travel to her father’s funeral did not breach the right of protection of family life

JUDGMENT

Guimon v. France 11.04.2019 (no. 48798/14)

see here

SUMMARY

The case concerned the refusal to allow the applicant, who was imprisoned in Rennes for terrorist
offences, to travel to a funeral parlour in Bayonne to pay her last respects to her deceased father.

The Court noted that the authorities had rejected the request on the grounds, firstly, of the
applicant’s criminal profile – she was serving several prison sentences for terrorist offences and
continued to assert her membership of ETA – and, secondly, because it was impossible to organise a
reinforced security escort within the time available.

The Court found that the respondent State had not exceeded the margin of appreciation afforded to
it in this area and that the refusal to grant the applicant’s request had not been disproportionate
and had pursued legitimate aims.

PROVISION 

Article 8

PRINCIPAL FACTS 

The applicant, Laurence Guimon, is a French national who was born in 1969. She was detained in
Rennes Prison (France) at the material time.

Ms Guimon, an active member of ETA until her arrest in 2003, was convicted on three occasions,
primarily for involvement in a criminal conspiracy planning an act of terrorism, handling assets
obtained by racketeering, and unlawful possession and transport of weapons and explosive
substances or devices in connection with terrorism.

On 26 April 2006 she was sentenced to 8 years’ imprisonment; on 29 November 2006 she was
sentenced to 17 years’ imprisonment with eligibility for parole only after two-thirds of the term had
been served; and on 17 November 2008, she was sentenced to a 17-year prison term, the latter
sentence to run concurrently with the second. In 2011 the courts ordered the partial concurrent
serving (five years maximum) of the 8-year sentence and the 17-year sentence.

On 21 January 2014 the applicant’s lawyer requested that she be granted a period of leave under
escort so that she could pay her last respects to her father, who had died on the same day in a
Bayonne hospital.

On 22 January the request was rejected by the Vice-President responsible for the execution of
sentences at the Paris tribunal de grande instance, who held that, while a death in the family could
constitute grounds for granting leave under escort, the request had to be assessed in the light of the
prisoner’s personality and the risk of escape.

On 23 January Ms Guimon appealed. On 24 January 2014 the order of 22 January was upheld. The
court of appeal held that although the request for authorisation was perfectly justified in human
terms, the risk of public disorder implied increased security, especially because of the geographical
distance involved, and because it was physically impossible to organise an escort at such short
notice.

Ms Guimon lodged an appeal on points of law against that decision. By an order of 29 April 2014, the
Court of Cassation dismissed that appeal, finding that there were no arguable grounds for setting the
decision aside .

Article 8

The Court reiterated that detention entailed inherent limitations on the applicant’s private and
family life. The right to prison leave was not guaranteed as such by the Convention.

The Court noted that the refusal to authorise escorted leave had been in accordance with the law,
namely Article 723-6 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, and that the risks of escape and public
disorder were inherent in granting temporary leave to a convicted prisoner, with or without an
escort. Except in emergency situations, decisions on requests for leave under escort were taken
after obtaining the opinion of the sentence enforcement board. The Court considered that the
possible grounds for refusing Ms Guimon’s request had been sufficiently foreseeable.

The Court noted that the judicial authorities, at first instance and on appeal, had examined Ms
Guimon’s request diligently and had held that her father’s death was an exceptional ground which
could justify granting escorted leave. However, the authorities had refused to grant her request on
account, firstly, of her criminal profile – she was serving several prison sentences for terrorist
offences and continued to assert her membership of ETA – and, secondly, because it was impossible
to organise a reinforced security escort within the time available. Equally, the Court found no
grounds for contradicting the Government’s assessment that the time available was insufficient to
organise an escort by officers who were specially trained in transferring and supervising prisoners
convicted of terrorist offences, to include prior inspection of premises.

The Court considered that the judicial authorities had carried out a balancing exercise between the
interests at stake, namely the applicant’s right to respect for her family life on the one hand and
public safety and the prevention of disorder and crime on the other. It held that the respondent
State had not exceeded the margin of appreciation afforded to it in this area. In the circumstances of
the case, the refusal to grant the applicant’s request for leave under escort to travel to the Bayonne
funeral parlour and pay her last respects to her father had not been disproportionate and had
pursued legitimate aims.

It followed that there had been no violation of Article 8 of the Convention(echrcaselaw.com editing).


ECHRCaseLaw

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