Information Note on the Courtís case-law No. 183
Varga and Others v. Hungary - 14097/12, 45135/12, 73712/12 et al.
Judgment 10.3.2015 [Section II] See  ECHR 256
Respondent State required to provide time frame for implementation of preventive and compensatory remedies in respect of inadequate detention conditions
Prison overcrowding and poor conditions of detention: violation
Ineffective remedies against poor detention conditions: violation
Facts - The applicants were current or former detainees who had spent part of their detention in cells allowing them less than 3 square metres of living space, in which the lavatory was separated from the living area only by a curtain and the living quarters were infested with insects and had no adequate ventilation or sleeping facilities. They also had very limited access to the shower and could spend little time outside their cells.
Law - Article 13 read in conjunction with Article 3: The Government suggested two remedies the applicants could have used in respect to the conditions of detention: a civil action in damages for the violation of personality rights and a complaint to the governor of the penitentiary and the public prosecutor. However, in the Courtís view none of these legal avenues satisfied the requirements of an effective remedy. The first, though accessible, was ineffective in practice, in that it did not afford plaintiffs adequate compensation for periods of detention spent in poor conditions. As to the second, its capacity to produce a preventive effect had not been convincingly demonstrated in practice.
Conclusion: violation (unanimously).
Article 3: The problem of overcrowding affecting the prisons where the applicants were or had been held had previously been recognised by the Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) and had not been disputed by the Government. The Court found that several aspects of the applicantsí detention, such as poor hygiene and lack of privacy, combined with the lack of personal space due to overcrowding, showed that the conditions of detention went beyond the threshold tolerated by Article 3. Moreover, in the case of the fourth applicant the lack of space was so severe as to constitute in itself treatment contrary to the Convention.
Conclusion: violation (unanimously).
Article 46: Taking into account the recurrent and persistent nature of the problem of detention conditions in Hungary, which had already been condemned by the Court in several cases, the large number of people it had affected or was capable of affecting and the urgent need to grant them speedy and appropriate redress at the domestic level, the Court considered it appropriate to apply the pilot-judgment procedure.
The respondent Government were therefore encouraged to promptly provide an effective remedy or a combination of remedies, both preventive and compensatory in nature and guaranteeing genuinely effective redress for Convention violations originating in prison overcrowding.
While recalling the general and individual measures already indicated in previous cases, the Court stressed that the most appropriate solution for the problem of overcrowding would be the reduction of the number of prisoners by more frequent use of non-custodial punitive measures and minimising recourse to pre-trial detention. To this end, the Court pointed to the recommendations of the Committee of Ministers inviting States to encourage prosecutors and judges to use as widely as possible alternatives to detention and redirect their criminal policy towards the reduced use of imprisonment. As to the specific options for preventive and compensatory remedies, a reduced prison sentence offered adequate redress to poor material conditions of detention, provided that the reduction was carried out in an express and measurable way.
While no specific time-limit for implementing the proposed suggestions was set, the Government were urged to act as soon as possible and to produce a time frame presenting the remedies within six months from the date the judgment became final. It was not appropriate to adjourn the examination of similar cases pending the implementation of relevant measures.
Article 41: awards ranging from EUR 3,400 to 26,000 to each applicant in respect of non-pecuniary damage.
(See also the Factsheet on Detention conditions and treatment of prisoners)
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This summary by the Registry does not bind the Court.
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