CASE OF BUDNIK v. POLAND
(Application no. 61928/13)
7 September 2017
This judgment is final but it may be subject to editorial revision.
In the case of Budnik v. Poland,
The European Court of Human Rights (First Section), sitting as a Committee composed of:
Jovan Ilievski, judges,
and Renata Degener, Deputy Section Registrar,
Having deliberated in private on 11 July 2017,
Delivers the following judgment, which was adopted on that date:
1. The case originated in an application (no. 61928/13) against the Republic of Poland lodged with the Court under Article 34 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (“the Convention”) by Mr Piotr Budnik (“the applicant”) on 23 September 2013.
2. The Polish Government (“the Government”) were represented by their Agent, Ms Justyna Chrzanowska of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
3. The applicant alleged that the conditions of his detention had amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment.
4. On 15 September 2014 the application was communicated to the Government.
I. THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE CASE
5. The applicant, Mr Piotr Budnik, is a Polish national who was born in 1980 and lives in Leszno.
The circumstances of the case
6. The facts of the case were not in dispute and may be summarised as follows.
1. The period of the applicant’s detention
7. The applicant was detained in Łowicz Prison from 27 January 2007 to 19 April 2009 (2 years, 2 months and 22 days).
2. The conditions of the applicant’s detention
8. The applicant submitted that throughout his detention in Łowicz Prison he had been held in overcrowded cells in which the space per person had been below the Polish statutory minimum standard of 3 sq. m.
9. The domestic courts established, without giving any further details, that the applicant had been detained in overcrowded cells during various unspecified periods from 27 January 2007 to 19 April 2009. The overcrowding led to many quarrels between the prisoners as the tables did not have enough space for everybody.
10. The applicant was placed in a solitary confinement cell for fourteen days as part of a disciplinary measure, where the toilet was not separated from the living space.
11. In reply, The Government submitted that the applicant had been held in solitary confinement owing to a need to monitor his behaviour. The number of stools and beds in all cells matched the number of inmates. All the cells were equipped with ventilation and heating systems. The applicant was entitled to one hot shower per week and one hour of outdoor exercise per day.
3. Civil proceedings against the State Treasury
12. On 12 May 2009 the applicant, represented by a legal aid lawyer, brought a civil action over an infringement of his personal rights on account of the inadequate living conditions in Łowicz Prison from 27 January 2007 to 19 April 2009. The applicant argued that he had been detained in overcrowded cells with space that was below the statutory minimum. He claimed 100,000 Polish zlotys (PLN) (approximately 25,000 euros (EUR)) in compensation.
13. On 20 July 2012 the Łódź Regional Court (Sąd Okregowy) granted the applicant PLN 3,000 (EUR 750) in compensation and dismissed the remainder of his claim. The domestic court found that the applicant had been detained in overcrowded cells from 27 January 2007 to 19 April 2009. Moreover, he had been detained in a solitary confinement cell as a disciplinary punishment for fourteen days.
14. On 1 March 2013 the Łódź Court of Appeal (Sąd Apelacyjny) amended the above judgment, increased the compensation to PLN 7,000 (approximately EUR 1,750) and dismissed the remainder of the action.
II. RELEVANT DOMESTIC LAW AND PRACTICE
15. A detailed description of the relevant domestic law and practice concerning general rules governing the conditions of detention in Poland and domestic remedies available to detainees alleging that the conditions of their detention were inadequate are set out in the Court’s pilot judgments in the cases of Orchowski v. Poland (no. 17885/04) and Norbert Sikorski v. Poland (no. 17599/05) adopted on 22 October 2009 (see §§ 75-85 and §§ 45-88 respectively). More recent developments are described in the Court’s decision in the case of Łatak v. Poland (no. 52070/08, 12 October 2010, §§ 25-54).
I. ALLEGED VIOLATION OF ARTICLE 3 OF THE CONVENTION
16. The applicant complained that the conditions of his detention and the overcrowding in Łowicz Prison, where he had been held between 27 January 2007 and 19 April 2009 (for almost 2 years and 3 months) had amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment under Article 3 of the Convention, which reads as follows:
“No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
17. The Government submitted that the applicant could no longer be considered a victim of the alleged violation because by virtue of the domestic court’s judgment of 1 March 2013 he had been awarded compensation of PLN 7,000 (approximately EUR 1,750) plus interest. Additionally, the domestic courts had relied on Article 3 of the Convention and had thus acknowledged a breach of the Convention. Moreover, the domestic courts had taken into account the fact that overcrowding alone had not contributed to the deterioration of the applicant’s health. The Government invoked the inadmissibility decisions in the cases of B.G. v. Poland ((dec.), no. 61403/10 of 27 August 20013) and Dubjaková v. Slovakia ((dec.), no. 67299/01 of 19 October 2004) and argued that since in those cases the amount of compensation awarded at national level had resulted in a finding that the applicants could no longer claim to be victims of a violation of the Convention, the same reasoning should be applied in the case at hand.
18. The applicant submitted in substance that he still had victim status within the meaning of the Convention.
19. The Court reiterates that a decision or measure favourable to the applicant is not, in principle, sufficient to deprive him of his status as a “victim” for the purposes of Article 34 of the Convention unless the national authorities have acknowledged, either expressly or in substance, and then afforded redress for the breach of the Convention (see Gäfgen v. Germany [GC], no. 22978/05, § 115, ECHR 2010).
20. The Court accepts the Government’s statement that a breach of the Convention was acknowledged by the national authorities. Nevertheless, it reiterates that the redress afforded must be appropriate and sufficient. This will depend on all the circumstances of the case, with particular regard to the nature of the Convention violation in issue (see Gäfgen, cited above, § 115). An applicant’s victim status may depend also on the level of compensation awarded at the domestic level on the basis of the facts about which he or she has complained to the Court (see Scordino v. Italy (no. 1) [GC], no. 36813/97, § 202, ECHR 2006-V)
21. The Court reiterates that Article 3 enshrines one of the most fundamental values of democratic societies and persons in custody are in a vulnerable position and the authorities are under a duty to protect them (see Orchowski, cited above, §§ 119-122). For that reason, despite acknowledgement of a breach of the Convention, the fact that an applicant has been awarded a sum of money in compensation in the domestic proceedings is not decisive when it comes to determining an applicant’s victim status (see Norbert Sikorski, cited above, §§ 96-99).
22. The Government invokes the case of B.G. v. Poland concerning Article 8 of the Convention and Dubjaková v. Slovakia (both cited above) concerning Article 6 and argues that the amount awarded was adequate. However, the Court is of the opinion that the findings in the aforementioned cases cannot be relied on in the case at hand because of the different nature of the alleged violation. In consequence, the amount of compensation awarded at national level in cases related to different violations of the Convention cannot be regarded as decisive in cases raising issues under Article 3. Additionally, the Polish national system does not provide for any alternative form of redress for a violation of a prisoner’s rights on the grounds of detention in inadequate, overcrowded conditions. Financial compensation is the only post-violation measure available to victims but national law does not limit the amount of compensation (see, a contrario, Stella v. Italy (dec.), no. 49169/09, §§ 59-63).
23. The Court acknowledges the fact that the amount of compensation is not a decisive factor and that solely because the sum awarded at national level was lower than that fixed by the Court does not automatically mean the remedy was not effective (see Stella, cited above, § 62). However, taking into account the Court’s case-law regarding the amount of compensation awarded in cases concerning prison conditions where the Court has found a violation of an applicant’s rights protected by Article 3, the compensation awarded to this applicant by the domestic authorities of EUR 1,750 is insufficient and the applicant can still claim to be a victim (see Janusz Wojciechowski v. Poland, no. 54511/11, §§ 42-49, 28 June 2016, and Olszewski v. Poland, no. 21880/03, § 124, 2 April 2013).
24. The Court further notes that the application 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.
25. The applicant maintained that the overcrowding and sanitary conditions of his incarceration had had an adverse effect on his health and had caused him humiliation and suffering. He submitted that the conditions of his detention had fallen short of standards compatible with Article 3 of the Convention.
26. The Government did not make any submissions as to the merits of the application.
27. The Court considers that in the circumstances of the instant case, as the applicant was detained in Łowicz Prison from 27 January 2007 to 19 April 2009, the applicant was detained in overcrowded conditions even after the systemic problem was considered to have been resolved (Orchowski (cited above, §§ 119-131 and Norbert Sikorski cited above, §§ 126-141).
28. The Court notes in that regard that the domestic courts established, in a finding that was uncontested by the applicant or the Government, that the applicant’s detention in Łowicz Prison was marked by serious overcrowding for a period of 802 days. Additionally, he was kept in a solitary confinement cell where the toilet was not separated from the living area (see paragraph 13 above).
29. Having regard to the circumstances of the case and their cumulative effect on the applicant, the Court considers that the distress and hardship endured by him exceeded the unavoidable level of suffering inherent in detention and went beyond the threshold of severity under Article 3 of the Convention.
There has accordingly been a violation of that Article.
II. APPLICATION OF ARTICLE 41 OF THE CONVENTION
30. 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.”
31. The applicant claimed 25,000 euros (EUR) in respect of non-pecuniary damage.
32. The Government argued that the amount sought was exorbitant.
33. The Court considers that the applicant suffered damage of a non-pecuniary nature as a result of his detention in conditions contrary to Article 3 of the Convention (see paragraphs 27-29 above). Making an assessment on an equitable basis, as required by Article 41 of the Convention, and in view of the award which has been already made by the domestic courts, the Court awards the applicant EUR 3,700 under this head.
B. Costs and expenses
C. Default interest
35. 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 application 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 of the date on which the judgment becomes final in accordance with Article 44 § 2 of the Convention, EUR 3,700 (three thousand seven hundred euros), plus any tax that may be chargeable, in respect of non-pecuniary damage, to be converted into the currency of the respondent State 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 7 September 2017, pursuant to Rule 77 §§ 2 and 3 of the Rules of Court.
Renata Degener Aleš
Deputy Registrar President