In the case of Messina v. Italy*,
The European Court of Human Rights, sitting, in accordance
with Article 43 (art. 43) of the Convention for the Protection
of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms ("the Convention")** and
the relevant provisions of the Rules of Court, as a Chamber
composed of the following judges:
Mr R. Bernhardt, President,
Mr Thór Vilhjálmsson,
Mr F. Matscher,
Mr L.-E. Pettiti,
Mr C. Russo,
Mr N. Valticos,
Mr S.K. Martens,
Mrs E. Palm,
Mr F. Bigi,
and also of Mr M.-A. Eissen, Registrar,
Having deliberated in private on 29 October 1992 and
2 February 1993,
Delivers the following judgment, which was adopted on the
Notes by the Registrar
* The case is numbered 14/1992/359/433. The first number is the
case's position on the list of cases referred to the Court in the
relevant year (second number). The last two numbers indicate the
case's position on the list of cases referred to the Court since
its creation and on the list of the corresponding originating
applications to the Commission.
** As amended by Article 11 of Protocol No. 8 (P8-11), which came
into force on 1 January 1990.
1. The case was referred to the Court by the European
Commission of Human Rights ("the Commission") on 13 April 1992,
within the three-month period laid down by Article 32 para. 1 and
Article 47 (art. 32-1, art. 47) of the Convention. It originated
in an application (no. 13803/88) against the Italian Republic
lodged with the Commission under Article 25 (art. 25) by an
Italian national, Mr Antonio Messina, on 27 October 1987. Before
the Commission the applicant was designated by the initial "M.",
but he subsequently consented to the disclosure of his identity.
The Commission's request referred to Articles 44 and 48
(art. 44, art. 48) and to the declaration whereby Italy
recognised the compulsory jurisdiction of the Court (Article 46)
(art. 46). The object of the request was to obtain a decision
as to whether the facts of the case disclosed a breach by the
respondent State of its obligations under Article 6 para. 1 and
Article 8 (art. 6-1, art. 8).
2. In response to the enquiry made in accordance with
Rule 33 para. 3 (d) of the Rules of Court, the applicant stated
that he wished to take part in the proceedings; the President of
the Court gave him leave to use the Italian language and to
present his own case (Rules 27 para. 3 and 30 para. 1, second
3. On 25 April 1992 the President of the Court decided that,
pursuant to Rule 21 para. 6 and in the interests of the proper
administration of justice, this case and the cases of Pizzetti,
De Micheli, F.M., Salesi, Trevisan and Billi v. Italy* should be
heard by the same Chamber.
* Cases nos. 8/1992/353/427 to 13/1992/358/432.
4. The Chamber to be constituted for this purpose included
ex officio Mr C. Russo, the elected judge of Italian nationality
(Article 43 of the Convention) (art. 43), and Mr R. Ryssdal, the
President of the Court (Rule 21 para. 3 (b)). On the same day,
in the presence of the Registrar, the President drew by lot the
names of the other seven members, namely Mr Thór Vilhjálmsson,
Mr F. Matscher, Mr L.-E. Pettiti, Mr N. Valticos,
Mr S.K. Martens, Mrs E. Palm and Mr F. Bigi (Article 43 in fine
of the Convention and Rule 21 para. 4) (art. 43).
5. Mr Ryssdal assumed the office of President of the Chamber
(Rule 21 para. 5) and, through the Deputy Registrar, consulted
the Agent of the Italian Government ("the Government"), the
Delegate of the Commission and the applicant on the organisation
of the proceedings (Rules 37 para. 1 and 38). Pursuant to the
order made in consequence, the Registrar received the applicant's
memorial on 3 July 1992. By a letter of 23 July the Government
stated that they wished to refer the Court to their observations
before the Commission. The Delegate of the Commission lodged his
written observations on 23 September.
6. On 26 May the Chamber had decided to dispense with a
hearing, having found that the conditions for such a derogation
from the usual procedure were satisfied (Rules 26 and 38).
7. On 3 September the Commission produced the file on the
proceedings before it, as requested by the Registrar on the
8. On 2 October 1992 the Government filed their observations
on the applicant's claims for just satisfaction (Article 50 of
the Convention) (art. 50).
9. As Mr Ryssdal was unable to attend the deliberations on
29 October, he was replaced as President of the Chamber by
Mr R. Bernhardt, the Vice-President of the Court (Rule 21
para. 5, second sub-paragraph).
AS TO THE FACTS
I. The particular circumstances of the case
A. The criminal proceedings brought against the
10. The applicant, who was charged, on the testimony of an
accused turned informer, with membership of a criminal
organisation of the mafia type and with drugs offences, was
arrested on 18 October 1985 under an arrest warrant issued the
previous day by the investigating judge attached to the Marsala
District Court, which also concerned seven other persons. The
warrant mentioned two separate sets of proceedings. According
to the applicant, an investigation was opened on 16 January 1980
in respect of proceedings registered under no. 35/80 and on
7 September 1984 for proceedings filed under no. 235/84. In
their observations of 30 November 1988 before the Commission, the
Government indicated that the two sets of proceedings had been
joined because of the connection existing between them, but that
the applicant faced no charges in the second set of proceedings.
11. On 28 June 1990 the public prosecutor at the Marsala
District Court filed his final submissions in regard to the other
accused, but did not express an opinion concerning the applicant.
12. The investigation has been closed since 8 July 1992; the
case is apparently still pending in the Marsala District Court.
B. The applicant's detention and the inspection of his
13. Mr Messina remained in detention on remand until
25 May 1987. The investigating judge questioned him
on 23 October 1985 and then at the end of February 1986.
14. On 18 April 1987 the judge ordered that he be released, as
the maximum permitted period of detention on remand had been
exceeded. Under his order the applicant was required to lodge
a security of fifty million Italian lire, to reside at Sciacca
(Sicily) and to report every day at 5 p.m. to the police station
to sign the register.
15. As the applicant had stated that he did not have the sum
demanded, the ensuing verifications resulted in his detention
being extended for one month. He was released on 25 May 1987.
The requirement concerning the security was lifted. The other
two conditions remained in force at first, but the investigating
judge revoked them on 30 November 1987 (compulsory residence
order) and 15 October 1988 (daily reporting to the police).
16. During his detention, Mr Messina had encountered some
problems in connection with the forwarding of his mail.
17. According to the applicant, he never received the
correspondence which had been sent to him in prison, with the
exception of a letter from his lawyer; this letter was posted in
December 1985, but did not reach him until March 1986. The
correspondence which had been intercepted allegedly included a
telegram from his wife, which had been sent in April 1987. The
applicant had, he maintained, on several occasions asked the
investigating judge for his mail to be delivered, but to no
18. The Government replied that the applicant's correspondence
had been subject to inspection by the investigating judge from
4 November 1985 onwards. Without being able to provide further
details, they stressed that the applicant had been officially
informed of this, at the latest, when the first duly approved
letter reached him.
According to the Government, nine letters addressed to the
applicant or sent by him were submitted for inspection: six
whilst he was in detention at Caltanissetta and three during his
imprisonment at Trapani.
19. The Commission declared admissible the complaints
concerning the following five items, whose dates do not appear
in the file:
(a) a letter to the applicant (no. 17655), submitted to
the Marsala investigating judge for approval on 10 November 1985,
approved on a date not recorded in the accompanying document
provided by the Italian Government and returned to Caltanissetta
prison on 29 November;
(b) a letter to the applicant (no. 20356), submitted for
approval on 21 December 1985, approved on 28 December and
returned to Caltanissetta prison on 2 January 1986;
(c) a letter to the applicant (no. 6158), submitted for
approval on 5 April 1986; it reached the judge on 10 April 1986,
was approved by him on 12 April and was returned to Caltanissetta
prison on 17 April;
(d) a postcard addressed to the applicant (no. 9217),
submitted for approval on 2 April 1987; it reached the judge on
6 April, was approved by him on 16 May 1987 and was returned to
Trapani prison on 19 May;
(e) a telegram to the applicant (no. 11381), submitted for
approval on 24 April 1987 and in respect of which it is not known
when, if at all, it was approved and then returned to Marsala
20. The Government affirmed that all the mail submitted for
approval had been delivered to the applicant. In their
observations of 27 October 1989 to the Commission, they conceded
that the applicant had on several occasions complained in writing
that he had not received the letters sent to him in prison.
II. The relevant domestic law
21. In its report the Commission gave a summary of the
legislation applicable in this area:
"32. Questions relating to prisoners' correspondence are
governed by the Prison Rules Act of 26 July 1975
33. Section 18 of the Act permits prisoners to
correspond with members of their families and others, even
in order to transact legal business.
34. The correspondence of convicted persons may be
subject to the approval of the prison governor, or of a
prison officer designated by the governor, on the basis of
a decision stating the reasons by the judge responsible
for the execution of sentence (magistrato di
35. For prisoners awaiting trial the decision whether
to submit their correspondence for approval is a matter
for the magistrato di sorveglianza in the case of those
already committed for trial, or the investigating judge
dealing with the case where the investigation has not been
36. Under Article 36 of the Act's implementing
regulation (Presidential Decree no. 431 of 29 April 1976),
sealed correspondence is subject to inspection designed to
detect the presence of money or prohibited articles. This
inspection must be carried out in such a way that there
can be no scrutiny of the written content of the
37. When the governor suspects the presence of
prohibited articles he retains the unopened envelope and
immediately informs the magistrato di sorveglianza or the
prosecuting authority so that they can take the necessary
38. Letters subject to approval, either on the
initiative of the prison authorities or in accordance with
the decisions of the competent judicial authorities, may
be either retained by the judge or forwarded to the
39. When correspondence sent by the prisoner is
retained, the latter must be informed immediately.
40. In addition, under section 35 of the Act prisoners
may lodge a complaint (reclamo) about the application of
the rules in a sealed envelope with:
a) the governor of the prison and/or the inspectors and
the Director General of Prisons or the Minister of
b) the magistrato di sorveglianza,
c) visiting representatives of the judicial and health
d) the president of the region,
e) the Head of State."
PROCEEDINGS BEFORE THE COMMISSION
22. The applicant lodged his application with the Commission
on 27 October 1987. Relying on Article 5 para. 3, Article 6
para. 1 and Article 8 (art. 5-3, art. 6-1, art. 8) of the
Convention, he complained of the length of his detention on
remand and that of the criminal proceedings brought against him
and of interferences with his right to respect for his
23. On 4 March 1991 the Commission declared inadmissible for
failure to comply with the six-month time-limit (Article 26
para. 1 in fine of the Convention) (art. 26-1):
(a) the first complaint; and
(b) the third complaint in so far as it related to the
decision of the investigating judge of 4 November 1985 ordering
the inspection of Mr Messina's correspondence (see paragraph 18
above) and the belated forwarding of the letter sent to him by
his lawyer in December 1985 (see paragraph 17 above).
On the other hand, it found the second complaint and the
remainder of the third (see paragraph 19 above) admissible. In
its report of 20 February 1992 (made under Article 31) (art. 31),
it expressed the unanimous opinion that there had been a
violation of Article 6 para. 1 and of Article 8 (art. 6-1,
art. 8). The full text of the Commission's report is reproduced
as an annex to this judgment*.
* Note by the Registrar: for practical reasons this annex will
appear only with the printed version of the judgment
(volume 257-H of Series A of the Publications of the Court), but
a copy of the Commission's report is available from the registry.
AS TO THE LAW
I. ALLEGED VIOLATION OF ARTICLE 6 PARA. 1 (art. 6-1)
24. The applicant alleged that the criminal proceedings
brought against him had not been conducted within a "reasonable
time" as required by Article 6 para. 1 (art. 6-1) of the
Convention, according to which:
"In the determination of ... any criminal charge against
him, everyone is entitled to a ... hearing within a
reasonable time by [a] ... tribunal ..."
The Government contested this claim, whereas the
Commission accepted it.
25. The period to be taken into consideration began on
18 October 1985, when Mr Messina was arrested. It has not yet
ended as the proceedings are still pending in the Marsala
26. The reasonableness of the length of proceedings is to be
determined with reference to the criteria laid down in the
Court's case-law and in the light of the circumstances of the
case, which in this instance call for an overall assessment.
27. The Government confined themselves to pleading the
complexity of the case, without providing any details on the
purpose, scale and result of the investigations undertaken by the
28. In view of the nature of the charges preferred against the
applicant, the Court accepts that the judicial authorities must
have encountered some difficulties linked to the number of
persons to be questioned and the number of witnesses to be heard,
as well as to the need for evidence to be taken on commission.
It cannot however regard as "reasonable" in this instance
a lapse of time which is already more than seven years for
proceedings which have still to be completed.
There has therefore been a violation of Article 6 para. 1
II. ALLEGED VIOLATION OF ARTICLE 8 (art. 8)
29. Mr Messina complained of an interference with his right to
respect for his correspondence, guaranteed under Article 8
(art. 8), according to which:
"1. Everyone has the right to respect for ... his
2. There shall be no interference by a public authority
with the exercise of this right except such as is in
accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic
society in the interests of national security, public
safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the
prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of
health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and
freedoms of others."
30. Whether there was in fact "interference by a public
authority" -over and above the requirement of the investigating
judge's approval (see paragraph 23 above) - is a matter of
dispute in this case. Mr Messina claimed that he had never
received the letters, the post card and the telegram in respect
of which the Commission found the complaint admissible (see
paragraph 19 above), whereas the Government maintained that they
had on the contrary been delivered. In this regard the present
case is clearly distinguishable from the numerous cases
concerning restrictions on the correspondence of prison inmates
that the Court has had to examine in the past (see, inter alia,
the Silver and Others v. the United Kingdom judgment of
25 March 1983, and the Campbell v. the United Kingdom judgment
of 25 March 1992, Series A nos. 61 and 233).
31. The Court is thus confronted with a dispute concerning the
exact circumstances of the case rather than a legal problem and
it must reach its decision on the basis of the available
evidence. The information obtained led the Commission, to which
under the Convention system the establishment and verification
of the facts primarily falls (see, among other authorities, the
Cruz Varas and Others v. Sweden judgment of 20 March 1991, Series
A no. 201, p. 29, para. 74), to give credence to the applicant's
allegations. At the same time the Government acknowledged that
on several occasions Mr Messina had complained in writing of not
receiving his correspondence (see paragraph 20 above).
As the Commission emphasised at paragraph 64 of its
report, a Contracting State cannot claim to have discharged its
obligations under Article 8 (art. 8) merely by supplying a record
of a prisoner's incoming mail. In the absence of documents or
other evidence such as might establish the contrary, the Court
cannot be certain that the items in question reached their
It has accordingly to conclude that there has been a
violation of Article 8 (art. 8).
III. APPLICATION OF ARTICLE 50 (art. 50)
32. Under Article 50 (art. 50),
"If the Court finds that a decision or a measure taken by
a legal authority or any other authority of a High
Contracting Party is completely or partially in conflict
with the obligations arising from the ... Convention, and
if the internal law of the said Party allows only partial
reparation to be made for the consequences of this
decision or measure, the decision of the Court shall, if
necessary, afford just satisfaction to the injured party."
33. The applicant claimed three thousand million Italian lire
for pecuniary and non-pecuniary damage. He cited the
impossibility of leading a normal family life and the feelings
of bitterness and persecution which he had developed as a result
of his problems with the judicial system.
34. Like the Government and the Commission, the Court observes
that Mr Messina has adduced no evidence of any pecuniary damage
deriving from the violation of Articles 6 para. 1 and 8
(art. 6-1, art. 8).
It considers, on the other hand and notwithstanding the
contrary opinion of the Government, that the applicant suffered
some non-pecuniary damage, for which the conclusions set out in
paragraphs 28 and 31 above do not constitute sufficient
satisfaction. It awards him 5,000,000 lire under this head.
35. The applicant did not seek the reimbursement of costs and
expenses; according to the consistent case-law, this is not a
matter for the Court to examine of its own motion.
FOR THESE REASONS, THE COURT
1. Holds unanimously that there has been a violation of
Article 6 para. 1 (art. 6-1);
2. Holds by seven votes to two that there has been a breach
of Article 8 (art. 8);
3. Holds unanimously that the respondent State is to pay to
the applicant, within three months, 5,000,000 (five
million) Italian lire for non-pecuniary damage;
4. Dismisses unanimously the remainder of the claim for just
Done in English and in French, and delivered at a public
hearing in the Human Rights Building, Strasbourg, on
26 February 1993.
Signed: Rudolf BERNHARDT
Signed: Marc-André EISSEN
Judges Pettiti and Russo state their dissent with the
majority of the Court as regards point 2 of the operative
provisions of the judgment (Rule 53 para. 2 in fine of the Rules
Initialled: R. B.
Initialled: M.-A. E.