CASE OF COJAN v. ROMANIA
(Application no. 54539/12)
28 April 2015
This judgment will become final in the circumstances set out in Article 44 § 2 of the Convention. It may be subject to editorial revision.
In the case of Cojan v. Romania,
The European Court of Human Rights (Third Section), sitting as a Chamber composed of:
Josep Casadevall, President,
Luis López Guerra,
Iulia Antoanella Motoc, judges,
and Stephen Phillips, Section Registrar,
Having deliberated in private on 7 April 2015,
Delivers the following judgment, which was adopted on that date:
1. The case originated in an application (no. 54539/12) against Romania lodged with the Court under Article 34 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (“the Convention”) by a Romanian national, Mr Vasile Cojan (“the applicant”), on 21 August 2012.
2. The applicant was represented by Ms R. E. Dedu, a lawyer practising in Bucharest. The Romanian Government (“the Government”) were represented by their Agent, Ms C. Brumar, from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
3. On 19 June 2013 the complaint concerning the conditions of the applicant’s detention was communicated to the Government.
I. THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE CASE
4. The applicant was born in 1954 and is currently detained in Giurgiu Prison.
5. On 19 May 2010 the applicant was placed in pre-trial detention on suspicion of having committed drug-related crimes. He was convicted on 6 May 2011 by the Bucharest County Court and sentenced to eighteen years’ imprisonment. The decision became final on 5 June 2012.
6. The applicant was held in the pre-trial detention facilities of the Bucharest Direction of Criminal Investigations until 16 November 2010. On that date he was transferred to Rahova Prison, where he remained until 13 August 2012.
7. He described the overall conditions of detention as follows: overcrowded cells, lack of natural light and lack of fresh air. In particular he described cells that measured about 19 sq. m and were 2.2 m high; each cell containing eight beds constantly occupied at full capacity; there was no natural light, only artificial light provided by one 40 W bulb which was insufficient; he had no access to fresh air. There was no refrigerator to store food in proper conditions. He shared cells with individuals arrested for violent crimes and there had been no means of summoning the guards, even though several violent incidents had taken place between the detainees.
8. According to the official prison records adduced by the Government, in the police detention facilities the applicant had been placed in cells situated in the basement (demisol), the first measuring 9 sq. m and containing four beds and the second measuring 13.5 sq. m and having six beds. The cells were occupied at full capacity. The cells had a table and chairs as well as a squat toilet, sink and shower separated from the living space by a curtain. The detainees had access to running water, and the cells were heated during winter. There was access to natural light, as each cell was provided with a window, but also to artificial light provided by a lamp placed in each cell, above the door, and protected by an iron grille. Personal hygiene was effected by means of products provided by the prison or acquired by the detainees themselves.
9. According to the same official information, in Rahova Prison the applicant had been held in different cells, all measuring 21 sq. m and containing eight beds (except for one cell where there were only six beds), a table, chairs and a support for a TV set. Adjacent to the cell there was a bathroom equipped with a toilet, sinks and a shower. Cold water was available continuously and hot water was available twice a week. The cell was heated to 18oC during the winter. The applicant was allowed to exercise for two hours daily in the interior courtyard and had access to outdoor and indoor sport facilities.
II. RELEVANT DOMESTIC LAW
10. A summary of the relevant regulations drafted by the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers and by the United Nations (the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, adopted by the First United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, which was held in Geneva in 1955, and approved by the Economic and Social Council by its resolutions 663 C (XXIV), of 31 July 1957, and 2076 (LXII), of 13 May 1977) as well as the findings and recommendations of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (“the CPT”) and the reports by the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights - which were drawn up following numerous visits to Romanian prisons, including Bucharest-Rahova Prison - can be found in Iacov Stanciu v. Romania (no. 35972/05, §§ 120-129, 24 July 2012).
The CPT’s findings concerning the conditions of detention in Bucharest police detention facilities are described in Căşuneanu v. Romania, no. 22018/10, § 43, 16 April 2013).
I. ALLEGED VIOLATION OF ARTICLE 3 OF THE CONVENTION
11. The applicant complained about the conditions of his detention in Bucharest police detention facilities and in Rahova Prison. He relied on Article 3 of the Convention, which reads as follows:
“No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
12. The Court notes that the complaint is not manifestly ill-founded within the meaning of Article 35 § 3 (a) of the Convention. It further notes that it is not inadmissible on any other grounds. It must therefore be declared admissible.
13. The applicant reaffirmed the bad conditions of detention, in particular concerning overcrowding, bad hygiene and unsatisfactory food, as a result of which he had become ill and depressed. He also considered that by holding him in such conditions, the authorities had deliberately tried to humiliate him.
14. The Government referred to the official description of the prison conditions and asserted that the authorities had done everything within their power to ensure that conditions in pre-trial detention were adequate. They also noted that the applicant had not complained to the domestic authorities about the conditions in which he had been held.
15. The Court refers to the principles established in its case-law regarding conditions of detention (see, for instance, Kudła v. Poland [GC], no. 30210/96, §§ 90-94, ECHR 2000-XI; Kalashnikov v. Russia, no. 47095/99, §§ 97 et seq., ECHR 2002-VI; and Iacov Stanciu, cited above, §§ 165-170). It reiterates, in particular, that ill-treatment must attain a minimum level of severity if it is to fall within the scope of Article 3; the assessment of this minimum is, in the nature of things, relative: it depends on all the circumstances of the case, such as the nature and context of the treatment, the manner and method of its execution, its duration, its physical or mental effects and, in some instances, the sex, age and state of health of the victim (see Kudła, cited above, § 91).
16. The Court has considered an extreme lack of space to be a central factor in analysing whether an applicant’s detention conditions complied with Article 3 (see Karalevičius v. Lithuania, no. 53254/99, § 39, 7 April 2005). In a series of cases the Court has concluded that a clear case of overcrowding gives sufficient cause for finding that Article 3 of the Convention has been violated (see among many others, Colesnicov v. Romania, no. 36479/03, §§ 78-82, 21 December 2010, and Budaca v. Romania, no. 57260/10, §§ 40-45, 17 July 2012). Moreover, it has already found violations of Article 3 of the Convention on account of the physical conditions of detention in Romanian detention facilities, including the Bucharest Remand Centre and Rahova Prison, especially with respect to overcrowding and lack of hygiene (see, for example, Căşuneanu, cited above, § 62, and Geanopol v. Romania, no. 1777/06, § 66, 5 March 2013).
17. In the case at hand, the Court observes, based on all the material at its disposal, that the personal space allowed to the applicant in detention fell short of the requirements laid down in the case-law. The Government have failed to put forward any argument that would allow the Court to reach a different conclusion.
18. Moreover, the applicant’s submissions in this respect correspond to the general findings by the CPT in respect of Romanian prisons (see paragraph 10 above).
19. The Court concludes that the conditions of detention caused the applicant harm that exceeded the unavoidable level of suffering inherent in detention and they have thus reached the minimum level of severity necessary to constitute degrading treatment within the meaning of Article 3 of the Convention.
There has accordingly been a violation of Article 3 of the Convention in respect of the material conditions of the applicant’s pre-trial detention.
II. APPLICATION OF ARTICLE 41 OF THE CONVENTION
20. Article 41 of the Convention provides:
“If the Court finds that there has been a violation of the Convention or the Protocols thereto, and if the internal law of the High Contracting Party concerned allows only partial reparation to be made, the Court shall, if necessary, afford just satisfaction to the injured party.”
21. The applicant claimed 6,000 euros (EUR) in respect of pecuniary damage, representing salary that he was unable to receive during his incarceration, and EUR 20,000 in respect of non-pecuniary damage for the stress and frustration endured in detention.
22. The Government alleged that the request for pecuniary damage went beyond the scope of the case, which was not concerned with the lawfulness of the applicant’s detention and was thus irrelevant as regards his lost potential earnings. They further argued that the amount requested with respect to non-pecuniary damage was excessive.
23. The Court does not discern any causal link between the violation found and the pecuniary damage alleged; it therefore rejects this claim. On the other hand, it awards the applicant EUR 5,250 in respect of non-pecuniary damage.
B. Costs and expenses
24. The applicant also claimed EUR 24,000 for the costs and expenses incurred before the domestic courts. He submitted invoices amounting to 108,204 Romanian Lei representing lawyer’s fees from the domestic proceedings relating to the extension of his detention.
25. The Government argued that the proceedings instituted by the lawyer on behalf of his client had not been of relevance to the complaint examined by the Court in the present case.
26. According to the Court’s case-law, an applicant is entitled to the reimbursement of costs and expenses only in so far as it has been shown that these have been actually and necessarily incurred and are reasonable as to quantum. In the present case, the Court agrees with the Government’s observations and rejects the claim.
C. Default interest
27. The Court considers it appropriate that the default interest rate should be based on the marginal lending rate of the European Central Bank, to which should be added three percentage points.
FOR THESE REASONS, THE COURT, UNANIMOUSLY,
1. Declares the complaint under Article 3 of the Convention admissible;
2. Holds that there has been a violation of Article 3 of the Convention;
(a) that the respondent State is to pay the applicant, within three months from the date on which the judgment becomes final in accordance with Article 44 § 2 of the Convention, EUR 5,250 (five thousand two hundred and fifty euros), plus any tax that may be chargeable, in respect of non-pecuniary damage, to be converted into the respondent State’s currency at the rate applicable at the date of settlement;
(b) that from the expiry of the above-mentioned three months until settlement simple interest shall be payable on the above amount at a rate equal to the marginal lending rate of the European Central Bank during the default period plus three percentage points;
4. Dismisses the remainder of the applicant’s claim for just satisfaction.
Done in English, and notified in writing on 28 April 2015, pursuant to Rule 77 §§ 2 and 3 of the Rules of Court.
Stephen Phillips Josep