Life prisoners must be isolated for 10 years for 22.5 hours every day and exit the cell only with handcuffs. A systematic problem of humiliating treatment!
N.T. v. Russia 02.06.2020 (no. 14727/11)
The case concerned the applicant’s complaint about routine handcuffing and various aspects of his
strict imprisonment regime, which had been applied to him for several years on the sole grounds of
his life sentence.
The Court found in particular that the Government had neither justified the applicant’s prolonged
isolation, including solitary confinement, nor his routine handcuffing for more than five years.
The applicant’s situation had moreover been aggravated by the fact that he had been confined to his
cell for about 22-and-a-half hours a day, without any other activity to do, such as work or education,
and by the fact that he often had to carry a heavy lavatory bucket to empty it outside while still
Overall, the applicant’s treatment had to have caused him significant distress and had been inhuman
The Court considered that the violation found in the case disclosed a systemic problem which
affected each life prisoner during the first ten years of his imprisonment and gave suggestions for
the measures which could be taken for reform.
The applicant, Mr N.T., is a Russian national who is currently serving a life sentence in special-regime
correctional colony no. 6 (“IK-6”) in the village of Elban in the Khabarovsk Region.
Mr N.T. started serving his sentence in special-regime correctional colony no. 56, located in the
Lozvinskiy settlement in the Sverdlovsk Region (“IK-56”), in December 2010. He was automatically
placed under the strict imprisonment regime, which applies to all life prisoners in Russia for at least
the first ten years of their sentence.
He was detained there for over seven years before being transferred to IK-6, where the strict
imprisonment regime continued for several more months until the statutory period expired. During
this time he was held in solitary confinement or a double cell with another prisoner.
From the first day of his detention in IK-56 until the end of 2015, he was handcuffed each time he
left his cell, and even when he had to empty his heavy 30-litre lavatory bucket into a cesspool
outside the building, there being no sewerage system in the facility.
When transferred to IK-6 in March 2018 he was put on the list of dangerous prisoners (“prisoners
inclined to escape, attack, take hostages, commit suicide or self-injure”), and prison guards started
to handcuff him again on a regular basis.
THE DECISION OF THE COURT…
Article 3 (inhuman or degrading treatment)
All in all, the applicant had been segregated for years from the rest of the prison community, solely
on the ground of his life sentence, either in isolation or by confinement in a double cell. His
situation had been further aggravated by the fact that he had been confined to his cell for about
22-and-a-half hours a day, without any purposeful activity, such as work or education.
The Court had already held that all forms of solitary confinement were likely, in the long term, to
have damaging effects, resulting in the deterioration of mental faculties and social abilities.
Confinement in a double cell could have similar negative effects if both detainees had to spend years
locked up in one cell without any purposeful activity, adequate access to outdoor exercise or
contacts with the outside world.
Detention in double cells in such conditions or prolonged isolation could therefore only be justified
by particular security reasons. The Government had not, however, explained the reasons for the
applicant’s solitary confinement.
Nor had they provided any reasons to justify the systematic handcuffing of the applicant, apart from
the fact that he had been on the list of dangerous prisoners from March 2018. That did not explain
though why it had been necessary to use handcuffs on him from the date of his arrival at IK-56 in
2010, particularly as he had never breached prison discipline during the entire period of his
detention in that facility. His routine handcuffing from 2010 to 2015, especially while being escorted
around IK-56, a highly secure facility, had clearly exceeded the legitimate requirements of prison
security. That situation had been aggravated by the fact that he had had to regularly carry a heavy
lavatory bucket outside to empty it with his hands cuffed.
The isolation, limited outdoor exercise and lack of purposeful activity had to have resulted in intense
and prolonged feelings of loneliness and boredom for the applicant which could have led to his
being institutionalised, while the routine handcuffing had diminished his human dignity and caused him anguish. Such a situation had to have caused significant distress to the applicant which had gone far beyond the unavoidable suffering and humiliation inherent in life imprisonment.
The Court concluded that that had amounted to treatment proscribed by Article 3. There had
therefore been a violation of Article 3 of the Convention on account of the inhuman and degrading
treatment to which the applicant had been subjected under the strict imprisonment regime.
Article 46 (binding force and enforcement)
The violation found in the applicant’s case stemmed in large part from the relevant provisions of the
the Code for the Execution of Criminal Sentences, which disclosed a systemic problem affecting each
life prisoner during the first ten years of his imprisonment. Taking into account the urgent need to
grant such prisoners speedy and appropriate redress at domestic level, the Court decided to outline
measures that could be instrumental in resolving the structural problem in compliance with the
Such measures could include removing the automatic application of the strict imprisonment regime
to all life prisoners and putting in place provisions which imposed – and maintained – the regime
only on the basis of an individual risk assessment of each life prisoner and for no longer than strictly
necessary. It could also be envisaged that certain aspects of the strict regime be mitigated,
particularly those concerning physical restrictions, the isolation of life prisoners and their access to
social and rehabilitation activities.
Just satisfaction (Article 41)
The Court held that Russia was to pay the applicant 3,000 euros (EUR) in respect of non-pecuniary
damage and EUR 1,000 in respect of costs and expenses.