EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS
Press release issued by the Registrar
POGHOSYAN v. GEORGIA
The European Court of Human Rights has today notified in writing its Chamber judgment1 in the case of Poghosyan v. Georgia (application no. 9870/07).
The Court held unanimously that there had been:
a violation of Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) of the European Convention on Human Rights on account of the failure to provide the applicant, who suffered from viral hepatitis C, with proper medical care in prison;
no violation of Article 3 of the Convention in respect of the post-operative care administered to the applicant at the prison hospital and at Rustavi prison no. 6.
As the applicant had not submitted a claim for just satisfaction within the required time, the Court held that there was no need to make an award under Article 41.
Furthermore, noting that almost forty applications concerning the lack of medical care in Georgian prisons were now pending before the Court, the Court found that there was a systemic problem concerning the administration of adequate medical care to prisoners infected, inter alia, with viral hepatitis C. It considered this to be an aggravating factor in respect of Georgia’s responsibility under the European Convention on Human Rights, but also a threat to the effectiveness of the Convention system. Consequently, under Article 46 (binding force and execution of judgments), it invites Georgia to take legislative and administrative steps, without delay, to prevent the transmission of viral hepatitis C in prisons, to introduce screening arrangements for this disease and to ensure its timely and effective treatment. (The judgment is available only in French.)
1. Principal facts
The applicant, Khvicha Poghosyan, is a Georgian national who was born in 1972 lives in Bodbiskhevi (Georgia).
In October 2006, while serving a prison sentence for robbery, the applicant underwent a surgical operation at the prison hospital to remove a dermoid cyst in the area of the coccyx. He was transferred to Rustavi prison no. 6 (Georgia) on 11 November 2006. He complained that the scar had not fully healed and that it had become infected.
That same month, the applicant’s lawyer applied to the Director of the Prison Department of the Ministry of Justice, stating that blood tests had revealed that her client was suffering from viral hepatitis C. She asked for the applicant to be admitted to the prison hospital to undergo the necessary examinations and receive effective medical treatment. She made this request several times, to the Governor of the prison also, but to no avail.
In December 2006 the prison Governor replied that the applicant had been examined by a hepatologist, who had detected the presence of chronic viral hepatitis C but found that it was not active enough to warrant transferring him to the prison hospital. The lawyer replied that according to the medical documents she had submitted, the applicant was suffering from acute viral hepatitis C, and questioned the professional competence of the specialist who had examined her client. She complained that the findings of the examination concerned and the treatment recommended had not been communicated to her, and asked the Governor once again to take the necessary measures prescribed by law to enable the applicant to receive adequate and effective medical treatment. Her request went unanswered.
In December 2008 the applicant was released after having served his unconditional prison sentence.
2. Procedure and composition of the Court
The application was lodged with the European Court of Human Rights on 18 January 2007.
Judgment was given by a Chamber of seven judges, composed as follows:
Tulkens (Belgium), President,
Ireneu Cabral Barreto (Portugal),
Vladimiro Zagrebelsky (Italy),
Danutė Jočienė (Lithuania),
Dragoljub Popović (Serbia),
Nona Tsotsoria (Georgia),
Işıl Karakaş (Turkey), judges,
and also Sally Dollé, Section Registrar.
3. Summary of the judgment2
Relying on Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment), the applicant complained that his discharge from the prison hospital had been premature and that he had not received proper medical care while in prison.
Decision of the Court
The Court noted that after being discharged from the prison hospital the applicant had been taken in charge by the medical staff at the prison and, as his wound had only become slightly infected, it had been possible to treat it successfully. The applicant himself confirmed that the post-operative period had gone smoothly. The Court accordingly found that there had been no violation of Article 3 in respect of the post-operative care administered to the applicant at the prison hospital and at Rustavi prison no. 6.
As to the medical care dispensed in prison, the Court noted first of all that in spite of several series of tests confirming that the applicant had viral hepatitis C, it was not clear from the file that the Georgian authorities had taken the trouble to evaluate the need for further appropriate analyses to be carried out: measurement of the viral load, determination of the viral genotype, or biopsy, for example. These tests had proved all the more necessary as in December 2006 a hepatologist had found that the disease was chronic and the virus was continuing to multiply.
The Court further noted that the Georgian Government had supplied no evidence that the applicant had been properly fed and that his state of anorexia and general fatigue had received medical attention. Nor is the Court persuaded by the Government’s submission that two echographies had sufficed to determine that the applicant’s liver complaint required no medical treatment. It was medically accepted that high gamma-GT levels could indicate fairly severe hepatitis C and that echography was not a reliable means of determining the extent of liver tissue damage.
The Court pointed out that, to protect a prisoner’s health, it was not enough to have him examined and a diagnosis made. It was essential to provide treatment corresponding to the diagnosis, as well as proper medical supervision. The Court accordingly found it unacceptable that the applicant’s repeated requests for treatment had been left unanswered or ignored.
That being so, the Court held that the applicant had not received treatment for his viral hepatitis C while in custody, in violation of Article 3.
The Court’s judgments are accessible on its Internet site (http://www.echr.coe.int).
Piedimonte (telephone : 00 33 (0)3 90 21 42 04)
Tracey Turner-Tretz (telephone : 00 33 (0)3 88 41 35 30)
Paramy Chanthalangsy (telephone : 00 33 (0)3 88 41 28 30)
Kristina Pencheva-Malinowski (telephone : 00 33 (0)3 88 41 35 70)
Céline Menu-Lange (telephone : 00 33 (0)3 90 21 58 77)
The European Court of Human Rights was set up in Strasbourg by the Council of Europe Member States in 1959 to deal with alleged violations of the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights.
1 Under Article 43 of the Convention, within three months from the date of a Chamber judgment, any party to the case may, in exceptional cases, request that the case be referred to the 17 member Grand Chamber of the Court. In that event, a panel of five judges considers whether the case raises a serious question affecting the interpretation or application of the Convention or its protocols, or a serious issue of general importance, in which case the Grand Chamber will deliver a final judgment. If no such question or issue arises, the panel will reject the request, at which point the judgment becomes final. Otherwise Chamber judgments become final on the expiry of the three-month period or earlier if the parties declare that they do not intend to make a request to refer.
2 This summary by the Registry does not bind the Court.