Overcrowded cells and the lack of heating consists degrading treatment of the prisoners. Prisoners’ online communication is prohibited due to the existence of other means of communication

JUDGMENT

Ciupercescu v. Romania 07.01.2019 (no.  41995/14)

see here

SUMMARY

Conditions of detention in prison and degrading treatment.

The applicant has been sentenced to 11 years in prison in various Romanian prisons. He appealed before the domestic courts for detention conditions regarding overcrowding, cell size, humidity, delayed medical care, a ban on online chat with his wife, breach of privacy and  tobacco smoke. The courts ruled in his favor regarding the terms of detention due to the large number of prisoners without compensation.

The Court found no evidence to depart from the domestic courts’ judgments on inadequate detention conditions regarding the size of the cell and the overcrowding of detainees, and found that these conditions constituted degrading treatment as long as they persisted. Violation of Article 3 of the ECHR.

The ECtHR, however, held that the applicant’s confinement to a cell with sufficient space was not one of the unfavorable conditions of detention, and found no violation of Article 3 as regards the systematic lack of due diligence to ensure his effective dental care but did not cause him a serious health problem, and humidity because he never asked for his cell to be cleaned. No privacy breach of the ban on communicating with his wife online because he had other means of communication.

PROVISIONS

Article 3,

Article 8

PRINCIPAL FACTS 

The applicant, Dragoş Ciupercescu, is a Romanian national who was born in 1971 and lives in
Bucharest.

The case concerned his complaints of inadequate conditions of detention.

Mr Ciupercescu was sentenced to 18 years’ imprisonment in 2005 and was detained in various
prisons until his release on parole in 2016.

During that period, he lodged complaints with the post-sentencing judge about the conditions of his
detention in Giurgiu Prison from January 2009 and then in Jilava Prison where he was transferred in
January 2015, essentially on account of overcrowding and inadequate heating. The judge found for
the applicant, but did not award compensation. As a result of the applicant’s complaint about
overcrowding, he was placed in a cell in Jilava Prison with more personal space as of March 2015.
Mr Ciupercescu also brought complaints before the domestic courts about being exposed to
cigarette smoke while being transported to court for hearings on his case and while in the waiting
rooms at the courts; of inadequate dental treatment; about not being able to communicate online
with his wife, who was living in Italy; and about having to inform the prison authorities of all the
telephone numbers he wished to call, alleging an infringement of the confidentiality of his
communications. The courts dismissed all the complaints, except for the one about online
communication where it acknowledged a breach of his rights owing to a lack of regulation.

Relying in particular on Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) of the European
Convention on Human Rights, Mr Ciupercescu complained about the conditions of his detention in
Giurgiu Prison and Jilava Prison.

THE DECISION OF THE COURT…

  1. I.ALLEGED VIOLATION OF ARTICLE 8 OF THE CONVENTION
  2. Giurgiu Prison

The Court having examined all the information submitted to it, including the relevant findings of the national courts, found no fact or argument capable of persuading it to reach a different conclusion as to the admissibility and the merits of the applicant’s complaint under Article 3 of the Convention. It therefore finds that the applicant’s conditions of detention in the Giurgiu prison for the period between 24 July 2012 and 26 January 2015 were inadequate.

Therefore, this complaint is admissible and is in breach of Article 3 of the Convention.

  1. Jilava Prison

(i) Detention period from 26 January until 23 March 2015

With regard to the period between 26 January and 23 March 2015, the Court takes note of the domestic courts acknowledgment of the breach of the applicants rights protected by Article 3 of the Convention in relation to the material conditions of his detention during that period.

Nevertheless, the Court reiterates that a decision or measure favourable to an applicant is not, in principle, sufficient to deprive him of his status as a “victim” for the purposes of Article 34 of the Convention unless the national authorities have acknowledged, either expressly or in substance, and then afforded redress for, the breach of the Convention. Only where both these conditions have been satisfied does the subsidiary nature of the protective mechanism of the Convention preclude examination of the application.

In that regard, the Court notes that the domestic courts did not consider it appropriate to afford any other redress, financial or otherwise, to the applicant.

The Court notes that it appears that in the period following the domestic courts acknowledgement the applicant was placed in cells where he had more than 4.9 square metres of personal space at his disposal. However, that measure cannot be considered to have redressed the situation during the period when the applicant was detained in inadequate conditions.

 In line with its well-established case-law on the matter the Court concludes that the applicant has not lost his victim status in respect of the alleged violation of Article 3 concerning the material conditions of his detention during the period between 26 January and 23 March 2015. This complaint is therefore admissible.

 Furthermore, ruling on the merits, the Court does not find any reasons justifying a departure from the domestic courts finding that the conditions of the applicants detention during the above-mentioned period were inadequate. There has therefore been a violation of Article 3 of the Convention in this respect.

ii) Detention period from 24 March until the applicants transfer to Ploieşti Prison

Concerning the remainder of the time which the applicant spent in Jilava Prison, the Court observes that the applicant has not challenged the documentation produced by the Government , showing that he had had at least 4.9 square metres of personal space at his disposal in each cell. In that regard, the Court cannot but conclude that no issue in relation to the question of personal space in the sense of overcrowding arises in the present case.

 The Court further reiterates that in cases where a detainee has more than 4 square metres of personal space at his disposal in multi-occupancy accommodation in prison, and therefore where no issue arises with regard to the question of personal space, other aspects of physical conditions of detention remain relevant for the Courts assessment of the adequacy of an applicants conditions of detention under Article 3 of the Convention.

From that perspective, the Court firstly notes that, having regard to the semi-open regime under which the applicant was serving his sentence, even if he had to have meals in his cell, he could leave the cell and move freely around the accessible facilities for approximately eight hours per day ), which was a significant amount of time. Such a favourable situation has a particular bearing when assessing the applicants conditions of detention. In addition, it must be considered that, even when in his cell, the applicant was not exposed to extreme conditions, in view of the amount of personal space which he had at his disposal.

The Court also notes that according to the records submitted by the Government, the quality of the drinking water in the prison was verified and found to be in compliance with the standard parameters.

Lastly, as regards the applicants complaint that there was damp on the walls of his cell (see paragraph 12 above), the Court considers that it does not have sufficient information to assess the veracity of this allegation. In any event, it refers to the Governments argument that if such a situation occurred in the prison, a request to have the damp removed would need to be filed by the prisoner concerned. In the present case, the applicant did not submit any such request.

Having regard to the above, the Court is not convinced that the overall conditions of detention in Jilava Prison from 24 March until 13 October 2016, when the applicant was transferred to Ploieşti Prison, subjected him to distress or hardship of an intensity exceeding the unavoidable level of suffering inherent in detention.

It follows that this part of the complaint is admissible, but discloses no breach of Article 3 of the Convention.

ΙΙ. VIOLATION OF ARTICLE 8 OF THE CONVENTION

The applicant complained that his right to respect for private and family life had been violated by his inability to communicate online with his wife, who was living in Italy. He also argued that his being obliged to provide the prison authorities with a list of all the phone numbers he needed to call in order to be authorised to make any phone calls from prison had constituted a breach of Article 8 of the Convention.

The Court considers that Article 8 of the Convention cannot be interpreted as a guarantee to prisoners of the right to communicate with the outside world through online devices, especially where alternative contact facilities are available.

The Court notes that in the applicant’s case access to this communication facility in order to maintain contact with his spouse, a right provided for by domestic law, was restricted.

However, this restriction was for a relatively short period of time, namely April 2015 to April 2016 at the latest when the implementing regulation was adopted. Moreover, there is no evidence to show that the applicant’s right to phone calls was restricted during the same period, nor did he make a request for it.

The Court therefore finds that the restriction complained of does not infringe Article 8 of the Convention.

Confidentiality of the applicants telephone communications

The Court notes that it has already dealt with an issue similar to the one in the present case. In Coşcodar v. Romania, the Court essentially held that where access to a telephone was permitted, it might – having regard to the ordinary and reasonable conditions of prison life – be subject to legitimate restrictions, for example in the light of the need for facilities to be shared with other prisoners, and the requirement to prevent disorder and crime. Furthermore, the Court emphasised that the restriction in question had not related to the content of a telephone conversation, and the information provided to the authorities had referred exclusively to the names and phone numbers of those whom the applicant had intended to call.

In Coşcodar, cited above, the Court therefore concluded that the measures complained of, to the extent that they might be regarded as an interference with a persons private life or correspondence, could be considered justified in terms of the second paragraph of Article 8 of the Convention.

Turning to the present case, and having regard also to the domestic courts findings in relation to the applicants complaint (see paragraphs 50 and 52 above), the Court considers that the applicant has not put forward any fact or argument capable of persuading it to reach a different conclusion.

It follows that this complaint is manifestly ill-founded and should be dismissed as inadmissible pursuant to Article 35 §§ 3 and 4 of the Convention.

Violation of Article 3 – in respect of Mr Ciupercescu’s material conditions of detention in Giurgiu
Prison and Jilava Prison from 24 July 2012 to 23 March 2015

No violation of Article 3 – in respect of Mr Ciupercescu’s material conditions of detention in Jilava
Prison from 24 March 2015 until his transfer to Ploieşti Prison on 13 October 2016

Just satisfaction: 3,000 euros (EUR) (non-pecuniary damage)


ECHRCaseLaw

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