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‘Abduction of Europa’ (Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn, Amsterdam - 1632 - fragment)

Thursday, 27 November 2014

This week in Strasbourg - A roundup of the European Court of Human Rights' case law - 2014 week 48


DETENTION

The Court recommends that Belgium envisage adopting general measures guaranteeing prisoners adequate conditions of detention - In the case of Vasilescu v. Belgium the European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been a violation of Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) of the European Convention on Human Rights regarding the physical conditions of the applicant’s detention.
The case mainly concerned Mr Vasilescu’s condition of detention in Antwerp and Merksplas Prisons. The Court found, in particular, that Mr Vasilescu’s physical conditions of detention in those prisons had subjected him to hardship exceeding the unavoidable level of suffering inherent in detention and amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment. The Court observed that the problems arising from prison overcrowding in Belgium, and the problems of unhygienic and dilapidated prison institutions, were structural in nature and did not concern Mr Vasilescu’s personal situation alone. It recommended that Belgium envisage adopting general measures guaranteeing prisoners conditions of detention compatible with Article 3 of the Convention and affording them an effective remedy by which to put a stop to an alleged violation or allow them to obtain an improvement in their conditions of detention.
"99. Tout d’abord, la Cour note qu’outre le problème du surpeuplement carcéral, les allégations du requérant quant aux conditions d’hygiène, notamment l’accès à l’eau courante et aux toilettes, sont plus que plausibles et reflètent des réalités décrites par le CPT dans les différents rapports établis à la suite de ses visites dans les prisons belges (paragraphes 46-52, ci-dessus).
100.  S’agissant en particulier de l’espace personnel accordé au requérant, la Cour observe que, pendant une partie de sa détention, l’intéressé a subi les effets d’une situation de surpopulation carcérale. Les parties s’accordent à dire que, pendant plusieurs semaines, le requérant disposait d’un espace individuel en-dessous de la norme recommandée par le CPT pour les cellules collectives, c’est-à-dire moins de 4 m² (Torreggiani et autres, précité, § 68). Pendant quinze jours, le requérant a même disposé d’un espace individuel de moins de 3 m², ce qui constitue, selon la jurisprudence de la Cour, un espace personnel qui, à lui seul, suffit pour conclure à la violation de l’article 3 de la Convention (Ananyev et autres, précité, § 145).
101. Ce manque d’espace de vie individuel a été aggravé en l’espèce par le fait que, selon le requérant, il dut dormir sur un matelas posé à même le sol pendant plusieurs semaines, ce qui n’est pas conforme à la règle élémentaire établie par le CPT : « un détenu, un lit » (paragraphe 48, ci‑dessus). À ce propos, la Cour rappelle qu’elle a déjà considéré que, pour des personnes se trouvant sous le contrôle exclusif des agents de l’État, telles les personnes détenues, le simple fait que la version du Gouvernement contredit celle fournie par le requérant ne saurait, en l’absence de tout document ou explication pertinents de la part du Gouvernement, amener la Cour à rejeter des allégations de l’intéressé comme non étayées (Torreggiani et autres, précité, §§ 72-73). En l’espèce, le Gouvernement affirme qu’un des détenus de la cellule devait effectivement dormir sur un matelas posé au sol, mais qu’il n’est pas possible de vérifier si c’était bien le requérant qui avait été amené à dormir par terre. Dans la mesure où le Gouvernement n’a pas apporté de preuve du contraire de la version du requérant, la Cour n’a pas de raison de douter, en l’espèce, des allégations de ce dernier selon lesquelles il dut dormir sur le matelas posé au sol. Ces allégations sont d’autant plus plausibles qu’il n’est pas contesté que le requérant souffre de problèmes de dos.
102. Concernant l’installation sanitaire et l’hygiène, la Cour relève que, d’après les informations fournies par le Gouvernement, le requérant n’a pas toujours disposé d’un accès à des toilettes conforme aux recommandations du CPT. En effet, dans une des cellules occupées par le requérant à la prison d’Anvers, la toilette se trouvait derrière un paravent. Or la Cour rappelle que, selon le CPT, une annexe sanitaire qui n’est que partiellement cloisonnée n’est pas acceptable dans une cellule occupée par plus d’un détenu (voir Canali c. France, no 40119/09, § 52, 25 avril 2013).
103. En outre, la Cour constate qu’au cours des soixante jours de détention dans le pavillon « cellules » de la prison de Merksplas, les cellules occupées par le requérant ne disposaient pas de toilette, ni d’accès à l’eau courante. Si les parties ne sont pas d’accord sur la question de savoir si le requérant avait, pendant la journée, accès libre aux toilettes dans le couloir de la prison, elles s’accordent à dire qu’en tout cas, pendant la nuit, le requérant ne disposait que d’un seau hygiénique pour satisfaire ses besoins naturels. Quoiqu’il en soit, l’utilisation dans les cellules d’un seau hygiénique a déjà été considéré par la Cour comme inacceptable (Iordan Petrov c. Bulgarie, no 22926/04, § 125, 24 janvier 2012). La situation dans le pavillon « cellules » de Merksplas a d’ailleurs été qualifiée de « médiocre » par le CPT, qui a appelé les autorités belges, depuis sa première visite à Merksplas en 1998, à prendre des mesures urgentes afin de remédier à l’absence d’accès aux toilettes et à l’eau courante dans ce pavillon (paragraphe 50, ci-dessus). Or la Cour constate que, seize ans plus tard, la situation ne semble pas s’être améliorée.
104. L’ensemble des conditions décrites ci-dessus a encore été aggravé par le fait que le requérant fut victime de tabagisme passif puisqu’il n’est pas contesté par le Gouvernement qu’il dut, pendant la majeure partie de sa détention, partager sa cellule avec des détenus fumeurs (paragraphes 6 et 13, ci-dessus). La Cour note à cet égard que le requérant ne bénéficiait que d’un temps relativement réduit en dehors de la cellule (paragraphes 12 et 17, ci‑dessus).
105. La Cour admet qu’en l’espèce rien n’indique qu’il y ait eu véritablement intention d’humilier ou de rabaisser le requérant pendant sa détention. Toutefois, l’absence d’un tel but ne saurait exclure un constat de violation de l’article 3 (Kalachnikov c. Russie, no 47095/99, § 101, CEDH 2002‑VI). Indépendamment des durées relativement courtes pendant lesquelles le requérant fut soumis aux conditions de détention susmentionnées, la Cour estime que les conditions de détention en cause, examinées dans leur ensemble, n’ont pas manqué de soumettre le requérant à une épreuve d’une intensité qui excédait le niveau inévitable de souffrance inhérent à la détention (Kaja c. Grèce, no 32927/03, § 49, 27 juillet 2006, Tadevosyan c. Arménie, no 41698/04, § 55, 2 décembre 2008, et Pop Blaga c. Roumanie, no 37379/02, § 46, 27 novembre 2012).
106. Dès lors, la Cour estime que les conditions matérielles de détention du requérant dans les prisons d’Anvers et de Merksplas, prises dans leur ensemble, ont atteint le seuil minimum de gravité requis par l’article 3 de la Convention et s’analysent en un traitement inhumain et dégradant au sens de cette disposition.
107. Partant, il y a eu violation de cette disposition."
Russia failed to comply with Court’s request to provide for independent medical assessment of seriously ill detainee - In the case of Amirov v. Russia the European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been a violation of Article 34 (right of individual petition) of the European Convention on Human Rights, on account of Russia’s failure to comply with an interim measure indicated by the European Court of Human Rights and a violation of Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment). The case concerned the complaint by a regional politician, detained on charges – and later convicted – of conspiring to organise a terrorist attack, that he was unable to receive appropriate care for his serious medical condition while in detention. The Court found in particular that the medical reports submitted by the Russian Government had not answered the questions asked by the Court concerning the state of Mr Amirov’s health and whether it was compatible with detention. The Government’s opinion on these questions could not replace an independent expert opinion, as requested by the Court. Under Article 46 (execution of judgments), the Court indicated a number of individual measures the Russian Government was to take. In particular, Mr Amirov was to be admitted to a specialised medical facility where he would remain under constant medical supervision. Having regard to the medical reports and opinions Mr Amirov had submitted, the Court found that, at first appearance, there was evidence in favour of his complaint, making the burden of proof shift to the Government. Having regard to its findings under Article 34, the Court considered that it could draw inferences from the Government’s conduct and apply a particularly thorough scrutiny to the evidence they had submitted. It found that the Government had failed to demonstrate conclusively that Mr Amirov was receiving effective medical treatment in detention for his illnesses. The evidence they had submitted was unconvincing and insufficient to disprove his account of the treatment he received in detention. The Court concluded that Mr Amirov had been left without medical assistance vital for his illnesses. In particular, the treatment had been incomplete and the medical supervision insufficient; there had been no adequate diagnosis in response to the increasing number of his health-related complaints.Furthermore, he had been kept in unsanitary conditions, which had posed a serious danger to him, given that his immune system was already weakened. The Court was also concerned that the medical care Mr Amirov received following his transfer to the detention facility in Rostov-on-Don was not appropriate in order to prevent the worsening of his condition. There had accordingly been a violation of Article 3.

Trying a businesswoman for a tax offence for which she had already been finally acquitted in criminal proceedings breached the Convention - The case of Lucky Dev v. Sweden concerns Swedish legislation for tax-related offences. Ms Lucky Dev, the applicant, claimed that she had been tried and punished twice for the same offence in tax and criminal proceedings instituted against her. The Court held unanimously that there had been a violation of Article 4 of Protocol no. 7 (right not to be tried or punished twice) to the European Convention on Human Rights. The Court concluded that Ms Dev had been tried “again” for a tax offence for which she had already been finally acquitted as the tax proceedings against her had not been terminated and the tax surcharges not quashed, even when criminal proceedings against her for a related tax offence had become final. The Court also recently declared inadmissible three applications concerning a similar issue for failure to exhaust domestic remedies (Shibendra Dev v. Sweden, Henriksson v. Sweden and Åberg v. Sweden). Having regard to the new legal position following a decision by the Swedish Supreme Court of 11 June 2013, the Court concluded that there were now accessible and effective remedies in Sweden which were capable of affording redress in respect of alleged violations of Article 4 of Protocol No. 7 and which applied retroactively. Indeed, to the extent that the case involved tax surcharges and tax offences based on the same information supplied in a tax return and had been tried or adjudicated in the second set of proceedings (tax or criminal) on or after 10 February 2009, an applicant could be expected to secure a re-opening of proceedings, a quashing or reduction of sanctions and an award of compensation for alleged damage. This principle applied whether or not the individual had already lodged an application with the European Court of Human Rights.

Joint concurring opinion of judges Villiger, Nussberger and De Gaetano:
"While we have voted with the majority in finding a violation of Article 4 of Protocol No. 7 in line with the judgment in Nykänen v. Finland (no. 11828/11, 20 May 2014), we think it is worth mentioning our disagreement with the majority’s approach to the retroactive application of the Court’s case-law after it has undergone a fundamental change.Legal change and flexibility are essential for a modern human rights protection system. Thus the Convention has always been considered as a living instrument taking up and responding to changes in European societies. At the same time it cannot be ignored that a radical change in the Court’s case-law – as in the present case – upsets legal certainty and, more specifically, the interaction between the national courts and the Court. It is disruptive for national courts following the Court’s case-law faithfully to find themselves – without any warning – accused of a breach of the Convention.It is therefore necessary to find a good balance between change and flexibility on the one hand and legal certainty on the other hand.In the Marckx v. Belgium judgment (13 June 1979, Series A no. 31) the Court gave a subtle answer to the problem and decided to apply the new interpretation of the Convention only to the case that was brought before it, but at the same time to limit further retroactive application. Thus the date of the judgment reversing the existing case-law is the watershed between the old and the new interpretation of the Convention:“... reliance has to be placed on two general principles of law which were recently recalled by the Court of Justice of the European Communities: ‘the practical consequences of any judicial decision must be carefully taken into account’, but ‘it would be impossible to go so far as to diminish the objectivity of the law and compromise its future application on the ground of the possible repercussions which might result, as regards the past, from such a judicial decision’ (8 April 1976, Defrenne v. Sabena, Reports 1976, p. 480). ... Having regard to all these circumstances, the principle of legal certainty, which is necessarily inherent in the law of the Convention as in Community Law, dispenses the Belgian State from re-opening legal acts or situations that antedate the delivery of the present judgment. Moreover, a similar solution is found in certain Contracting States having a constitutional court: their public law limits the retroactive effect of those decisions of that court that annul legislation” (see Marckx, cited above, § 58).[1]”In the present case the Swedish courts followed this approach and took the date of adoption of the judgment in Sergey Zolotukhin v. Russia ([GC], no. 14939/03, ECHR 2009), reversing the previous case-law (Rosenquist v. Sweden (dec.), no. 60619/00, 14 September 2004), as the starting-point for the change in the Swedish case-law. They thus took the erga omnes effect of the Court’s rulings seriously while at the same time setting a clear time-frame.On this basis the Swedish Government argued that there had been no violation of Article 4 Protocol No. 7 “as the criminal proceedings had been finalised a month before the Sergey Zolotukhin judgment ... and thus at a time when the Court’s case-law indicated that the Swedish system was in conformity with this provision” (see paragraph 50 of the judgment).The majority of the Chamber, however, rejected this approach based on very general assumptions directly contradicting Marckx:“Generally, if events in the past are to be judged according to jurisprudence prevailing at the time when the events occurred, virtually no change in case-law would be possible. While the Court acknowledges that, at the time of the criminal proceedings against the applicant, there had been an earlier decision relating to double proceedings in Swedish tax matters which concluded that a complaint concerning similar circumstances was manifestly ill-founded (Rosenquist, cited above), the present case must nevertheless be determined with regard to the case-law existing at the time of the Court’s examination” (see paragraph 50 of the judgment).”In our view this general statement is contradicted by the regulation on the ex nunc effects of Constitutional Court judgments alluded to in the Marckx judgment.[2] A much more differentiated approach is necessary.The only direct answer given by the Convention itself is the six-month rule, which naturally limits the retroactive effects of new case-law in time.Furthermore, there is a long-standing position on the part of the Court concerning cases in which the applicants have already lodged a complaint with the Court at the time of the reversal of the case-law. As they are in exactly the same situation as the successful applicant they should be treated in the same way (see, for example, Dovguchits v. Russia, no. 2999/03, § 24, 7 June 2007; Redka v. Ukraine, no. 17788/02, § 25, 21 June 2007; Rizhamadze v. Georgia, no. 2745/03, § 27, 31 July 2007; Ştefanescu v. Romania, no. 9555/03, § 20, 11 October 2007; and Vanjak v. Croatia, no. 29889/04, § 32, 14 January 2010).The open question concerns applications – such as the present one – lodged after the reversal of the case-law when the national courts’ judgments based on the previous approach have already acquired res judicata. In those cases there are clearly conflicting interests: on the one hand the trust of the national courts in the reliability and persistence of the Court’s case-law, and on the other hand the applicants’ trust in the application of the new case-law.In this context it is necessary to be aware of the fact that every change in the case-law will inevitably bring about situations of inequality as “new” applications are treated differently from “old” ones. This inequality cannot be avoided wherever the dividing line is drawn.Therefore we would argue that it is perfectly legitimate for national courts to apply the Court’s new approach only ex nunc, unless there are compelling reasons to decide otherwise (which would have to be clearly indicated by the Court in its judgment revising the case-law). This is all the more true when the national courts agree to change their own case-law because of the erga omnes effects of the Court’s judgments. [3]National courts are required to implement the Court’s judgments, but not to anticipate changes in the case-law.In the present case, however, the proceedings continued after the date of the Zolotukhin judgment (cited above), so that the national courts did have a chance to implement the new approach.Nevertheless, we think that the scope of the retroactive effect of the Court’s judgments deserves heightened attention[4] and should be dealt with very carefully in order not to undermine the national courts’ trust in the validity of the Court’s authoritative findings." 
[1] A similar approach has also been adopted by the Court concerning changes of case-law at the national level. Thus the Court stated, in a case concerning a new interpretation of the passing of an automatic sentence of life imprisonment, that it was “not persuaded that the clarification and interpretation of section 2 by the Court of Appeal rendered previous sentencing exercises unlawful retrospectively” (Partington v. the United Kingdom (dec.), no. 58853/00, 26 June 2003). 
[2] Compare the systematic analysis of the different solutions to the problem of retroactivity of new case-law: Francoise Tulkens, Sébastien Van Drooghenbroeck, The shadow of Marckx. For a renewed debate on the temporal effects of judgments of the European Court of Human Rights. The authors distinguish between “absolute retrospectivity”, “qualified or indeed ordinary retrospectivity”, “limited or selective prospectivity”, and “absolute prospectivtiy”. 
[3] In this respect Sweden’s approach went further than the one taken, for instance, by France when implementing the Mazurek judgment (no. 34406/97, ECHR 2000‑II) and by Germany when implementing the Brauer judgment (no. 3545/04, 28 May 2009). France and Germany changed their approach not on the basis of the erga omnes effects of the Court’s judgments, but only when the Court found their respective legislation to be incompatible with the Convention. 
[4] Tulkens and Van Drooghenbroeck convincingly show relevant inconsistencies in the Court’s rulings on the retroactive application of changed case-law.
Trade Unions - Hrvatski liječnički sindikat v. Croatia - The case concerned the ban on a strike by a trade union of medical practitioners who wished to put pressure on the Croatian Government in order to enforce an annex to a collective agreement for the health care sector. Relying on Article 11 (freedom of assembly and association) of the European Convention on Human Rights, the applicant union complained about the national courts’ decisions effectively banning it from holding a strike for a period of approximately three years and eight months. Violation of Article 11

Confiscation of a house funded through drug trafficking was justified - In its decision in the case of Aboufadda v. France the European Court of Human Rights has, by a majority, declared the application inadmissible. The decision is final. The case concerned the confiscation of a building which belonged to the applicants and in which they lived, the courts having determined that most of their assets had been obtained through the proceeds of drug trafficking engaged in by their son. Pointing out that States have room for manoeuvre (“wide margin of appreciation”) in controlling the use of property in accordance with the general interest, the Court interpreted the French courts’ decision to confiscate the applicants’ residence as demonstrating a legitimate wish to punish severely offences which were akin to concealing illegally-obtained assets, and which, in addition, had occurred in the context of large-scale drug trafficking at local level. Given the ravages caused by drugs, the Court understood that the authorities of the member States should wish to treat those who contributed to the propagation of this scourge with great firmness. It also reiterated that the confiscation of assets obtained from the proceeds of crime had assumed a significant role both in the legal systems of several member States of the Council of Europe and internationally.

Texts are based on the press releases of the European Court of Human Rights. 
This selection covers categories 1 and 2 judgments


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