Information Note on the Court’s case-law No. 170
Lindström and Mässeli v. Finland - 24630/10
Judgment 14.1.2014 [Section IV]
Obligation on prisoners to wear closed overalls while being held in isolation for short period: no violation
Facts - In 2004 the applicants, who were both serving prison sentences, were placed in isolation (the first applicant for three days, the second for seven) as they were suspected of attempting to smuggle drugs into the prison. While in isolation, they were forced to wear overalls covering them from neck to foot and “sealed” by prison staff with plastic strips. They could not remove the overalls by themselves or draw their hands inside the sleeves. The applicants alleged that there had been instances in which they had been forced to defecate in their overalls, as prison guards had not been able to escort them to a supervised toilet quickly enough, and that they had not been allowed to change afterwards or to wash throughout their period in isolation. They had suffered skin problems as a result. In 2005 the applicants reported the matter to the police and the authorities pressed charges against the prison director and two senior guards. However, in 2007 the district court dismissed all the charges in a judgment that was upheld on appeal.
Law - Article 3: Maintaining order and security in prisons and guaranteeing prisoners’ well-being could be proper grounds for introducing a system of closed overalls to be used while prisoners were held in isolation. Moreover, the measures were designed to protect prisoners’ health and there was no intention to humiliate. Nevertheless, such a practice could be assessed differently if it led, in concrete circumstances, to situations which were contrary to Article 3. In the instant case, the domestic courts had found that it had not been intended that the prisoners should defecate in their overalls and that there was no evidence that the guards had delayed their response to the applicants’ calls to use the toilet. Nor had it been shown that the applicants had not had an appropriate possibility to wash whenever necessary or had had to continue wearing dirty overalls. They had failed to submit any evidence to prove that the plastic strips had caused abrasions to their wrists or that the overalls had caused an allergic reaction. It was not for the Court to re-examine the validity of the domestic courts’ assessment of the facts. Furthermore, where there were convincing security needs, the practice of using closed overalls during a relatively short period of isolation could not, in itself, reach the threshold of Article 3. This was especially so in the applicants’ case, given that they were unable to produce any evidence to support their allegations concerning the possibly humiliating elements of their treatment.
Conclusion: no violation (five votes to two).
The Court also held, unanimously, that there had been a violation of Article 8 of the Convention in that the interference with the applicants’ right to respect for their private life was not in accordance with law. The applicants were awarded EUR 3,000 each in respect of non-pecuniary damage for that violation.
(See Kudła v. Poland [GC], 30210/96, 26 October 2000, Information Note 23; Peers v. Greece, 28524/95, 19 April 2001, Information Note 29; Doerga v. the Netherlands, 50210/99, 27 April 2004, Information Note 63; and Wisse v. France, 71611/01, 20 December 2005)
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This summary by the Registry does not bind the Court.
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