Keeping prisoner in solitary confinement did not constitute inhuman and degrading treatment in breach of the Convention

JUDGMENT

Astruc v. France 14.05.2020 (no. 5499/15)

see here

SUMMARY

The case concerned the applicant’s complaint that he was kept in solitary confinement, while
imprisoned on remand, after hospital treatment.

The measure sought to clarify how the applicant was procuring unauthorised items while in prison
and to prevent this from continuing.

The Court noted that, while there had been no assessment by the prison administration of the
applicant’s fitness to be placed in solitary confinement, his state of health had not in any event
required such an assessment after he left the hospital psychiatric unit. The prison register also
showed that the applicant had been monitored very regularly by the medical teams. It had also been
verified that his state of health did not require any adaptation of his detention conditions.

Lastly, the Court took the view that the applicant had been afforded the minimum procedural
safeguards required in such matters to avoid any risk of arbitrary decisions.

PROVISION

Article 3

PRINCIPAL FACTS

The applicant, Cyril Astruc, is a French national who was born in 1973 and was held in Fresnes
Prison.

Mr Astruc was taken into custody on the basis of five warrants in the context of judicial
investigations against him, a number of which concerned carbon tax fraud which had led to the
misappropriation of 146 million euros. He was placed in the remand prison in Fresnes on 10 January
2014 in the context of one of those cases.

On 26 March 2014 the prison administration informed the investigating judge that interception of
his telephone calls had enabled it to identify outside contacts used by the applicant to obtain
services. On 8 April 2014 Mr Astruc was placed in solitary confinement on a provisional basis for
having been found in possession of items that could not be bought in prison. On 11 April 2014 the
prison governor decided to place him in solitary confinement from 12 April 2014 to 12 July 2014, in
order to “prevent any repeat of the fraudulent procurements”. On 13 April 2014 Mr Astruc applied
to the urgent applications judge of the administrative court seeking a stay of execution of that
decision; the judge rejected the application as being devoid of urgency.

On 30 April 2014 Mr Astruc was admitted to the prison hospital’s psychiatric unit under a protocol
known as medical cell confinement. Two days later he left the unit at his request and was kept in
solitary confinement.

On 5 May 2014 Mr Astruc submitted a fresh application for a stay of execution of the decision to
place him in confinement. He argued in particular that his state of health had considerably worsened
since his previous application and that his possession of personal hygiene and other products did not
represent any risk for the prison or for other individuals. On the same day the urgent applications
judge dismissed his request in a decision, against which Mr Astruc appealed.

In a letter of 16 June 2014 the prison governor informed the investigating judge that other seizures
of prohibited items had been carried out in the cell, and that Mr Astruc had been paid numerous visits, had received food parcels and had purchased products in the canteen in such quantities that
they had to be stored in another cell. On 17 June 2014 Mr Astruc was given the disciplinary sanction
of confinement in an ordinary cell for seven days after a USB key that could not have been bought
inside the prison was found in his cell.

On 23 June 2014, before the scheduled date, the prison governor decided to lift the confinement
measure. On 23 July 2014 the Conseil d’État declared inadmissible the applicant’s appeal against the
decision of 5 May 2014.

On 13 September 2017 Mr Astruc was sentenced by the Paris Criminal Court to nine years’
imprisonment and a fine of one million euros in the case of carbon tax fraud. On 9 September 2019
the Paris Court of Appeal raised the sentence to ten years. The applicant was not present at either
hearing as he had disappeared after being released in 2015.

THE DECISION OF THE COURT…

Article 3

The Court noted that, while the items found during searches in his cell had not represented any
particular danger, the prison administration had taken its decision to place him in solitary
confinement based on the applicant’s criminal profile and his significant financial capacities which
enabled him to obtain services from outside contacts, thus breaching public order in the prison. The
measure was thus intended to clarify how he had procured unauthorised items while in prison and
to prevent this from continuing.

The Court noted that, while there had been no assessment by the prison administration of the
applicant’s fitness to be placed in solitary confinement, as no outside doctor had intervened for this
purpose, his state of health had not in any event required such an assessment after he left the
hospital psychiatric unit. As the domestic courts had noted, there was no indication that his state of
health had worsened. The applicant had left on the first working day following his hospitalisation,
which had not been found necessary by the prison unit’s psychiatrist. The prison register also
showed that the applicant had been monitored very regularly by the medical teams. It had also been
verified that his state of health did not require any adaptation of his detention conditions.

As to the procedural safeguards, the Court noted that the applicant had been given an adversarial
hearing, in the presence of his lawyer, prior to the final decision to place him in solitary confinement.
Beforehand the applicant had been notified of the relevant documents and had submitted written comments. He had also lodged two applications with the urgent applications judge and then two
appeals before the Conseil d’État, in April and May 2014, all of which had been rejected. Through the
intermediary of his counsel he had asked the prison administration to lift the measure and this
request had first been rejected but later accepted in June 2014.

In those circumstances the Court took the view that the applicant had been afforded the minimum
procedural safeguards required in such matters to avoid any risk of arbitrary decisions.
The Court found that the applicant had been held in partial and relative solitary confinement, a
measure that had been justified by security reasons and was compatible with his state of health,
which was being monitored, that his situation had been regularly re-examined and that he had
enjoyed the necessary procedural safeguards to prevent any arbitrariness in the procedure.

The complaint under Article 3 of the Convention thus had to be rejected as manifestly ill-founded


ECHRCaseLaw

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