CASE OF OLEKSA v. POLAND
(Application no. 47580/13)
12 July 2018
This judgment is final but it may be subject to editorial revision.
In the case of Oleksa v. Poland,
The European Court of Human Rights (First Section), sitting as a Committee composed of:
Aleš Pejchal, President,
Jovan Ilievski, judges,
and Abel Campos, Section Registrar,
Having deliberated in private on 19 June 2018,
Delivers the following judgment, which was adopted on that date:
1. The case originated in an application (no. 47580/13) 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 a Polish national, Mr Robert Oleksa ("the applicant"), on 11 July 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 8 September 2014 the complaint concerning the conditions of his detention in Mysłowice Remand Centre from 20 April 2010 to 12 January 2011 and in Wojkowice Prison from 12 January 2011 to 9 March 2012 was communicated to the Government and the remainder of the application was declared inadmissible pursuant to Rule 54 § 3 of the Rules of Court.
I. THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE CASE
5. The applicant was born in 1979 and is detained in Strzelce Opolskie Prison.
6. The facts of the case may be summarised as follows.
A. The period of the applicant's detention
7. The applicant was detained in Mysłowice Remand Centre from 20 April 2010 to 12 January 2011 and in Wojkowice Prison from 12 January 2011 to 9 March 2012 (1 year, 10 months and 20 days).
B. The conditions of the applicant's detention
8. The parties' statements relating to the conditions of the applicant's detention from 20 April 2010 to 9 March 2012 are to a large extent contradictory.
9. The applicant submitted that throughout his detention in Mysłowice Remand Centre and Wojkowice Prison, he had been held in overcrowded cells in which the space per person had been below the Polish statutory minimum standard of 3 m².
10. In their observations, the Government submitted that the applicant had been detained in overcrowded cells only on 20 April, 18 and 19 May 2009.
11. In the course of civil proceedings instituted by the applicant (see paragraphs 14-16 below), the domestic courts established, without giving any further details, that the applicant had been detained in overcrowded cells from 20 April 2010 to 9 March 2012 (1 year, 10 months and 20 days).
12. Regarding the conditions of detention in Mysłowice Remand Centre, the domestic court established that the overall conditions in cells were adequate. The applicant had one hot shower per week and one hour of outdoor exercise per day.
13. Regarding the conditions of detention in Wojkowice Prison, as established by the domestic courts, the toilets were separated from the cell's living area, every prisoner had his own bed, a stool and access to cold running water. The prisoners had basic hygiene products at their disposal. The ceiling was infested with humidity. The applicant had one hot shower per week and one hour of outdoor exercise per day.
C. Civil proceedings against the State Treasury
14. On 24 February 2012 the applicant brought a civil action for the infringement of his personal rights on account of inadequate living conditions in Wojkowice Prison from November 2005 to July 2006 and from January to March 2007, in Mysłowice Remand Centre from 20 April 2010 to 12 January 2011 and, subsequently, again in Wojkowice Prison from 12 January 2011 to 9 March 2012. The applicant argued that he had been detained in overcrowded cells, where the space per person had been below the statutory minimum of 3 m². He claimed 80,000 Polish zlotys (PLN) (approximately 20,000 euros (EUR)) in compensation.
15. On 18 December 2012 the Katowice Regional Court dismissed the applicant's action, finding that from 20 April 2010 to 9 March 2012 the applicant had been detained in cells above the minimum statutory standard. As regards the remainder of the period, the claim was time-barred as lodged outside the three-year period of statutory limitation.
16. On 27 June 2013 the Katowice Court of Appeal overruled the lower court's judgment and allowed the applicant's action, finding that from 20 April 2010 to 9 March 2012 he had been detained in overcrowded cells. The court relied in this respect on the applicant's submissions, holding that the State Treasury had in fact acknowledged these by its multiple refusals to provide the first and the second instance courts with an official register of cells in which the applicant had been detained. It also granted the applicant PLN 1,000 (EUR 250) in compensation, holding that the breach of the statutory minimum standard had not been significant.
II. RELEVANT DOMESTIC LAW AND PRACTICE
17. 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, is 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
18. The applicant complained that the conditions of his detention and the overcrowding in Mysłowice Remand Centre and Wojkowice Prison, where he had been held from 20 April 2010 to 9 March 2012 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."
19. The Government, in their observations, acknowledged that on 20 April, 18 and 19 May 2009 the applicant had been detained in overcrowded cells where the space per person was below the statutory minimum. As regards the remainder of the impugned period, the Government submitted that the applicant had been detained in cells where the space per person had been more than 3 m². However, they failed to provide the Court with any evidence supporting their submissions.
1. Incompatibility ratione personae
20. 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 27 June 2013 he had been awarded compensation of PLN 1,000 plus interest. Additionally, the domestic court relied on Article 3 of the Convention and thus acknowledged a breach of the Convention. Moreover, it took into account the fact that the breach of the statutory minimum standard of 3 m² had not been significant. The Government relied, inter alia, on 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 the applicant could no longer claim to be a victim of a violation of the Convention, as the compensation of PLN 1,000 was sufficient to compensate for his detention in overcrowded cells for three days.
21. The applicant refrained from taking position in this respect.
22. 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).
23. 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 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).
24. The Court reiterates that Article 3 enshrines one of the most fundamental values of democratic societies. 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).
25. The Court notes that in the present case the applicant sued the State, submitting that the defendant had failed to ensure adequate conditions during his detention in Mysłowice Remand Centre and Wojkowice Prison and the Katowice Court of Appeal found that his detention in overcrowded cells had lasted from 20 April 2010 to 9 March 2012 (see paragraph 16 above).
26. Taking into account the domestic court's findings in respect of the length of the applicant's detention in overcrowded cells and 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 Court finds that the compensation awarded to the applicant by the domestic court is insufficient to deprive him of his victim status.
27. In the light of the foregoing, the Court considers that the applicant can still claim to be a victim of a violation of the substantive aspect of Article 3 on account of overcrowding and the resulting inadequate conditions of his detention. It therefore dismisses the Government's preliminary objection in that regard.
2. No significant disadvantage
28. The Government further argued that the applicant's complaint should be declared inadmissible because he had not suffered a significant disadvantage within the meaning of Article 35 § 3 (b) of the Convention since the alleged violation did not attain the minimum level of severity required to warrant consideration by an international court.
29. The applicant did not comment on the Government's objection.
30. At the outset, the Court notes that the application of this criterion is not limited to complaints relating to specific Articles of the Convention. However, the Court finds it difficult to envisage a situation in which a complaint under Article 3 of the Convention which would not be inadmissible on any other grounds and which would fall within the scope of Article 3 (which means that the minimum level of severity test would be fulfilled) might be declared inadmissible because the applicant has not suffered a significant disadvantage (see Y v. Latvia no. 61183/08, § 74, 21 October 2014). As indicated above, in view of the Government's failure to support their submission with any relevant evidence, the Court must rely on the findings made by the domestic courts according to which the applicant spent almost 1 year and 11 months in overcrowded cells. Given the length of that period, it finds that the situation complained of cannot be characterised as "non-significant disadvantage". It follows that the Government's objection must be dismissed.
3. Conclusion as regards admissibility
31. The Court notes that the applicant's 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.
32. The applicant maintained that the conditions of his detention from 20 April 2010 to 9 March 2012 had fallen short of standards compatible with Article 3 of the Convention.
33. In their observations the Government refrained from taking position on the merits of the application.
34. A restatement of the general principles concerning the examination of conditions of detention under Article 3 may be found in the Court's pilot judgments in Orchowski (cited above, §§ 119-131) and Norbert Sikorski (also cited above, §§ 126-141), and in Muršić v. Croatia [GC], no. 7334/13, §§ 96-141, ECHR 2016.
35. The Court has already found that a strong presumption of a violation of Article 3 arises when the personal space available to a detainee falls below 3 m² multi-occupancy accommodation, a presumption which can be rebutted only where the following requirements are cumulatively met: where short, occasional and minor reductions of personal space are accompanied by sufficient freedom of movement outside the cell, and adequate out-of-cell activities and confinement is in, viewed generally, an appropriate detention facility (see, Muršić, cited above, §§ 137-138).
36. Referring to the Government's failure to provide any supporting evidence in relation to their submissions (see paragraph 19 above), the Court notes that it has held on many occasions that cases concerning allegations of inadequate conditions of detention do not lend themselves to a rigorous application of the principle affirmanti incumbit probatio (he who alleges something must prove that allegation), because in such instances the respondent Government alone have access to information capable of corroborating or refuting those allegations. It follows that, after the Court has given notice of the applicant's complaint to the Government, the burden is on the latter to collect and produce relevant documents. A failure on their part to submit convincing evidence on material conditions of detention may give rise to the drawing of inferences as to the well-foundedness of the applicant's allegations (see Olszewski v. Poland, no. 21880/03, § 94, 2 April 2013).
37. The Court reiterates that, as established by the domestic court, from 20 April 2010 to 9 March 2012 the applicant had been detained in overcrowded cells, below 3 m² of personal space (see paragraph 16 above).
38. Having regard to the fact that the Government failed to provide any evidence to the contrary or confirming compliance with the standards set in Muršić (cited above), the Court finds that in these circumstances the reduction of the required personal space cannot be considered as "short, occasional and minor" within the meaning of the Court's case-law (see Muršić, cited above, § 130). It follows that in the present case the strong presumption of a violation of Article 3 cannot be rebutted.
39. Taking into account all the above circumstances the Court finds that in the present case there has been a violation of Article 3 of the Convention.
II. APPLICATION OF ARTICLE 41 OF THE CONVENTION
40. 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."
41. The applicant did not submit a claim for just satisfaction. Accordingly, the Court considers that there is no call to award him any sum on that account.
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.
Done in English, and notified in writing on 12 July 2018, pursuant to Rule 77 §§ 2 and 3 of the Rules of Court.
Abel CamposAleš Pejchal