ECHR: Popov and Vorobyev v. Russia

On 23 April, the European Court of Human Rights published the decision Popov and Vorobyev v. Russia (Application no. 1606/02), where it established violation of the prohibition to torture due to the overcrowding of the prisions:

59.  The Court reiterates that in a number of cases the lack of personal space afforded to detainees in Russian remand prisons has been found to be so extreme as to justify, in its own right, a finding of a violation of Article 3 of the Convention. In those cases applicants had usually had less than 3 sq. m. of personal space (see, for example, Lind v. Russia, no. 25664/05, § 59, 6 December 2007; Kantyrev v. Russia, no. 37213/02, §§ 50-51, 21 June 2007; Andrey Frolov v. Russia, no. 205/02, §§ 47-49, 29 March 2007; Mayzit v. Russia, no. 63378/00, § 40, 20 January 2005; and Labzov v. Russia, no. 62208/00, § 44, 16 June 2005).

60.  Having regard to its case-law on the subject and the material submitted by the parties, the Court notes that the Government have not put forward any fact or argument capable of persuading it to reach a different conclusion in the present case. For more than thirteen months the applicants were obliged to live, sleep and use the toilet in such crammed conditions that the lack of space itself was sufficient to cause distress or hardship of an intensity exceeding the unavoidable level of suffering inherent in detention. It follows that the conditions of the applicants’ detention amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment.

61.  As to the Government’s argument that the authorities had no intention of making the applicant suffer, the Court reiterates that although the question whether the purpose of the treatment was to humiliate or debase the victim is a factor to be taken into account, the absence of any such purpose cannot preclude a finding of violation of Article 3 (see Kalashnikov v. Russia, no. 47095/99, § 101, ECHR 2002-VI).

62.  There has therefore been a violation of Article 3 of the Convention on account of the conditions of the applicants’ detention in detention centre IZ-25/1.

Furthermore, on exhaustion of domestic remedies, the Court specified that, while general conditions of detention do not require exhaustion of domestic remedies, specific acts or omissions by the authorities must be complained beforehand at the national level:

67.  The Court reiterates that where the applicant’s complaint stems not from a known structural problem, such as general conditions of detention, in particular overcrowding, but from an alleged specific act or omission by the authorities, the applicant must be required, as a rule, to exhaust domestic remedies in respect of such complaints. The Court has already established that applicants complaining of a lack of medical assistance should raise their complaints with the competent domestic authorities, including the administration of the detention facility (see Solovyev v. Russia (dec.), no. 76114/01, 27 September 2007, and Tarariyeva v. Russia (dec.), no. 4353/03, 11 October 2005). In connection with this, the Court notes that the domestic legislation at the material time provided that an inmate had the right to request that his or her medical examination be conducted by medical officers of other medical institutions and, if the administration of the detention facility refused to arrange such an examination, to appeal against that decision to the prosecutor or the court (see paragraph 53). However, in the present case, the applicants failed to resort to this remedy and to raise the issue of the alleged lack of medical assistance or its inadequate quality with the administration of the detention centre, the prosecutor’s office or the court. There is no indication that such a remedy would have been ineffective in the circumstances of the applicants’ case. Therefore, the Court does not find any grounds for absolving the applicants from the requirement of exhaustion of domestic remedies as regards the alleged lack of medical care.

On detention on remand the Court developed the following principles:

81.  The Court observes that the gravity of the charge was the main factor for the assessment of the applicants’ potential to abscond. The domestic authorities assumed that the gravity of the charge carried such a preponderant weight that no other circumstances could have obtained the applicants’ release. The Court has repeatedly held that, although the severity of the sentence faced is a relevant element in the assessment of the risk of an accused absconding or reoffending, the need to continue the deprivation of liberty cannot be assessed from a purely abstract point of view, taking into consideration only the seriousness of the offence. Nor can continuation of the detention be used to anticipate a custodial sentence (see Letellier v. France, judgment of 26 June 1991, § 51, Series A no. 207; see also Panchenko v. Russia, no. 45100/98, § 102, 8 February 2005; Goral v. Poland, no. 38654/97, § 68, 30 October 2003; and Ilijkov, cited above, § 81).

82.  The domestic authorities also referred to the fact that the applicants could have obstructed the course of justice by influencing the witnesses. Although such factors could justify a relatively longer period of detention, they do not give the authorities unlimited power to extend this preventive measure (see Osuch v. Poland, no. 31246/02, § 26, 14 November 2006, and Celejewski v. Poland, no. 17584/04, §§ 37-38, 4 May 2006). The fact that a person is charged with criminal conspiracy is not in itself sufficient to justify long periods of detention; the accused’s personal circumstances and behaviour must always be taken into account. There is no indication in the present case that the applicants had made any attempts to intimidate witnesses or to obstruct the course of the proceedings in any other way. In such circumstances the Court has difficulty accepting that there was a risk of interference with the administration of justice at the later stages of the proceedings. The Court is not therefore persuaded that, throughout the entire period of the applicants’ detention, there were compelling reasons to fear that they might interfere with witnesses or otherwise hamper the investigation of the case, certainly not to such an extent as to outweigh the applicants’ right to trial within a reasonable time or release pending trial.


85.  Finally, the Court notes that when deciding whether a person should be released or detained the authorities have an obligation under Article 5 § 3 to consider alternative measures of ensuring his or her appearance at trial. This Convention provision proclaims not only the right to “trial within a reasonable time or to release pending trial” but also lays down that “release may be conditioned by guarantees to appear for trial” (see Sulaoja, cited above, § 64 in fine, 15 February 2005, and Jabłoński, cited above, § 83). In the present case the authorities never considered the possibility of ensuring the applicants’ attendance by the use of a more lenient preventive measure.

And finally, the Court repeated its absolute prohibition of judicial collective detention orders:

83.  The Court further observes that after the case had been submitted for trial, on 8 August 2000 the trial court used a summary formula to extend the detention of both applicants, without describing their personal situation in any detail or providing any reasons for their continued detention (see paragraph 22 above). The Court has already found that the practice of issuing collective detention orders without assessment of the grounds for detention in respect of each detainee is incompatible, in itself, with Article 5 § 3 of the Convention (see Shcheglyuk v. Russia, no. 7649/02, § 45, 14 December 2006; Korchuganova, cited above, § 76; and Dolgova v. Russia, no. 11886/05, § 49, 2 March 2006). By extending the detention of both applicants simultaneously on the basis of a summary formula and providing no reasons whatsoever for its decision, the trial court failed to examine their individual circumstances.

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