Inadequate detention conditions are degrading treatment. ECtHR proposals to restrict temporary detention
Sukachov v. Ukraine 30.01.2020 (no. 14057/17)
Detention conditions, inhumane and degrading treatment. Systemic problem and ECHR intervention.
The applicant was arrested in 2012 on charges of involvement in terrorist acts, and has been provisionally detained in a Ukrainian detention facility until 2018, when he was convicted and sentenced to 12 years in prison. He filed two complaints of inadequate detention conditions, namely limited personal space, lack of hygiene and minimal time for physical activity, but were rejected as unproven, even though the competent Prosecutor conducted an inspection at the detention facilities.
The Court considered that the allocation of a restricted area of 2.6 to 3.35 sq. M. without any compensatory measures such as more time for pre-meditation and physical activity, is inhumane and degrading treatment.
As to the right to an effective remedy, it found that there had been repeated complaints against Ukraine and the Court held that the only remedy available to the detainees, namely the complaint before the Prosecutor, did not guarantee the right to an effective remedy. Violation of Article 13.
Finally, the Court ruled that the Ukrainian State should, within 18 months of the publication of the judgment, take specific measures, namely (a) limiting the detention as a measure, (b) extending the detainees’ personal space, (c) providing for effective recourse to prisoners; (d) establishing a supervisory authority for detention facilities; and (e) providing for compensatory measures such as reducing penalties or instituting compensation.
The applicant, Viktor Sukachov, is a Ukrainian national who was born in 1978.
Since his arrest in 2012 on terrorism charges he has been held in detention in Dnipropetrovsk (now
Dnipro) Pre-trial Detention Facility No. 3, which in March 2016 was re-categorised as a prison. He
was convicted as charged in 2018 and sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment.
During his time in the Dnipro prison Mr Sukachov complained about the sanitary and hygiene
conditions of his detention, lodging a petition with a member of parliament in 2016 and complaining
directly to the Prosecutor General in 2017. His first complaint resulted in an inspection by the
regional prosecutor who found that his allegations had not been confirmed. His second complaint
led to a similar finding by the relevant prosecutor.
THE DECISION OF THE COURT…
Article 3 (conditions of detention)
The Court relied on the principles for assessing detention conditions that it had set out in other
judgments, notably in Muršić v. Croatia (no. 7334/13). In particular, whilst there was a strong
presumption of inhuman and degrading treatment under Article 3 of the Convention when a
detainee had less than 3 square metres of personal space, this could sometimes be compensated for
by the cumulative effects of the conditions of detention, such as freedom of movement and the
appropriateness of the detention facility.
The Court found that the personal space allocated to Mr Sukachov during his time in Dnipro prison,
ranging from 2.6 to 3.35 sq. m, had not been compensated for by other factors. Indeed, it had been
aggravated by certain aspects of his detention such as the lack of any genuine opportunity to
exercise between 2012 and 2014. Except for the periods during which he had had
4.3 sq. m of personal space in one of the cells between 2014 and 2017, the Court held that the
cumulative effect of his detention conditions had amounted to a violation of Article 3.
Article 13 (preventive and compensatory remedies for inadequate conditions of detention)
The Government argued that Mr Sukachov had had an effective domestic remedy for his Article 3
complaints as he had lodged complaints with a prosecutor, which had resulted in reasoned answers.
The Court found, however, as it had in previous cases against Ukraine, that a complaint to the
prosecutor was not an effective remedy. That was because, notably, it did not provide adequate
safeguards for an independent and impartial review, could not lead to any preventive or
compensatory redress, and had procedural shortcomings such as the fact that any complaint could
be dealt with entirely between the prosecutor and the facility, without the detainee’s participation.
In any case, the Court underlined that problems relating to conditions of detention did not concern
an individual situation but were of a structural nature, which undermined the effectiveness of any
Lastly, the Government had not suggested that any compensatory remedies had been available to
Mr Sukachov in his individual case.
The Court therefore concluded that he had had no effective remedy to complain about the
conditions of his pre-trial detention in the Dnipro prison, in violation of Article 13, read in
conjunction with Article 3.
Article 46 (binding force and implementation)
The Court noted that it had already found violations of Articles 3 and 13 on account of poor
conditions of detention in pre-trial detention facilities in Ukraine in 55 other judgments, that it had
120 similar complaints pending before it and that, according to recent statistics, over 20,000 people
were being held in pre-trial detention facilities. The case therefore concerned a recurrent structural
problem, which had affected and was capable of affecting a large number of people.
Even though prison reform was ongoing, the situation of those held in pre-trial detention had not
improved. Such lack of progress had been observed by both the Council of Europe’s Committee of
Ministers and its Committee for the Prevention of Torture (“the CPT”), which had repeatedly called
on the Ukrainian authorities to tackle the problem. Despite the Committee of Ministers having
supervised enforcement of the Court’s judgments concerning conditions of detention in Ukraine for
the last 14 years, violations such as those in the applicant’s case continued to occur.
The Court therefore decided to apply its pilot-judgment procedure in Mr Sukachov’s case, and listed
comprehensive measures to deal with the structural problem.
In particular, it suggested that overcrowding could be reduced by more frequent use of
non-custodial measures and by minimising recourse to pre-trial detention. Prosecutors and other
law-enforcement officers should be encouraged to decrease requests for initial detention and for its
extension, except in the most serious cases, and to use alternatives as widely as possible.
Furthermore, the current minimum domestic standard (2.5 sq. m) of personal space per detainee
should be aligned with Convention standards.
Appropriate funds should also be set aside to carry out major renovation work in existing detention
facilities and replace obsolete facilities with new ones without delay.
Moreover, a system of effective remedies in accordance with the requirements of the Court’s
case-law had to be introduced. The best preventive remedy would be a special independent
authority to supervise detention facilities, while compensatory measures could include reducing a
detainee’s sentence or offering damages. The Court stressed that preventive and compensatory
remedies were interrelated and, for them to be effective, they had to be combined.
Finally, in view of the persisting and long-lasting nature of the problem and of the apparent absence
of any concrete solution, the Court told the Ukrainian authorities to make available effective
preventive and compensatory remedies, at the latest within 18 months of this judgment becoming
Article 41 (just satisfaction)
The Court held that Ukraine was to pay the applicant 9,500 euros (EUR) in respect of non-pecuniary
damage as concerned the violation of Article 3, and that a finding of a violation constituted sufficient
just satisfaction in regard to Article 13 in conjunction with Article 3.