CASE OF WOŁOSOWICZ v. POLAND
(Application no. 11757/15)
12 July 2018
This judgment is final but it may be subject to editorial revision.
In the case of Wołosowicz 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. 11757/15) 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 Arkadiusz Wołosowicz ("the applicant"), on 8 April 2015.
2. The Polish Government ("the Government") were represented by their Agent, Ms Justyna Chrzanowska of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
3. On 4 October 2016 the complaint concerning conditions of detention 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
4. The applicant was born in 1976 and lives in Bielsk Podlaski.
5. The facts of the case were not in dispute and may be summarised as follows.
A. The period of the applicant's detention
6. The applicant was detained in Siedlce Prison from 26 January to 19 April 2007 and from 15 July to 15 October 2009.
B. The conditions of the applicant's detention
7. The applicant submitted that, during his detention in Siedlce Prison, he had been held in cells where the amount of space per person had been below the Polish statutory minimum standard of 3 m². He also submitted that he had been held in cells with smokers. Moreover, he raised the problems of humidity, lack of hygiene and warm water and limited access to make telephone calls.
8. The domestic courts found that the applicant had been detained in an overcrowded cell during his detention in Siedlce Prison from 15 July to 15 October 2009 (91 days), when he had been assigned to cell no. 616 (15.94 m²) with 5 other prisoners (2.65 m² per person).
9. The courts further found that the toilet areas had been separated from the rest of the living space in the cells in compliance with the relevant law. The toilet annex had only cold running water. It was further noted that the cells were adequately equipped. The applicant was held in cells in accordance with his declaration about his tobacco habits.
C. Civil proceedings against the State Treasury
10. On 13 July 2013 the applicant brought a civil action against the State Treasury for infringement of his personal rights and for compensation on account of his detention in an overcrowded cell in Siedlce Prison. He claimed 43,000 Polish zlotys (PLN) (10,750 euros (EUR)) in compensation.
11. On 30 May 2014 the Siedlce District Court (Sąd Rejonowy) dismissed the applicant's action. It confirmed, however, that the applicant had been detained temporarily in an overcrowded cell, from 15 July to 15 October 2009.
12. On 17 February 2015 the Siedlce Regional Court (Sąd Okręgowy) dismissed the applicant's appeal.
II. RELEVANT DOMESTIC LAW AND PRACTICE
13. 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. THE GOVERNMENT'S REQUEST FOR THE APPLICATION TO BE STRUCK OUT UNDER ARTICLE 37 OF THE CONVENTION
14. On 20 February 2017 the Government submitted a unilateral declaration similar to that in the case of Tahsin Acar v. Turkey (Tahsin Acar v. Turkey (preliminary objection) [GC], no. 26307/95, ECHR 2003-VI). They informed the Court that they were ready to accept that there had been a violation of the applicant's right under Article 3 of the Convention as regards the overcrowded detention conditions and proposed an amount that they were prepared to pay for non-pecuniary damage sustained by the applicant. The Government invited the Court to strike out the application in accordance with Article 37 of the Convention.
15. The applicant did not agree with the Government's proposal. He submitted that the amount proposed did not constitute sufficient just satisfaction for the damage he had sustained and requested the Court to continue the examination of the application.
16. The Court observes that, as it has already held on many occasions, it may be appropriate under certain circumstances to strike out an application or part thereof under Article 37 § 1 (c) of the Convention on the basis of a unilateral declaration by the respondent Government, even if the applicant wishes the examination of the case to be continued. It will depend on the particular circumstances whether the unilateral declaration offers a sufficient basis for finding that respect for human rights as defined in the Convention and its Protocols does not require the Court to continue its examination of the case (see Tahsin Acar, cited above, § 75, and Melnic v. Moldova , no. 6923/03, § 22, 14 November 2006).
17. According to the Court's case-law, the amount proposed in a unilateral declaration may be considered a sufficient basis for striking out an application or part thereof. The Court will have regard in this connection to the compatibility of the amount with its own awards in similar cases regarding overcrowding in prison (see the strike-out decisions following a friendly settlement in Soszyński v. Poland, no. 23854/12, 15 January 2013; and Budziszewski, v. Poland, no. 16544/12, 29 January 2013), bearing in mind the principles which it has developed for determining victim status and for assessing the amount of non-pecuniary compensation to be awarded in cases concerning detention in conditions contrary to Article 3 of the Convention (see Janusz Wojciechowski v. Poland, no. 54511/11, § 42, 28 June 2016, and Olszewski v. Poland, no. 21880/03, § 124, 2 April 2013).
18. As to whether it would be appropriate to strike out the present application on the basis of the unilateral declaration made by the Government, the Court considers that the sum proposed in the declaration in respect of the non-pecuniary damage suffered by the applicant as a result of the alleged violation of the Convention does not bear a reasonable relationship to the amounts awarded by the Court in similar cases in respect of non-pecuniary damage (see Soszyński and Budziszewski, both cited above).
19. On the facts, and for the reasons set out above, the Court finds that the Government failed to submit a statement offering a sufficient basis for finding that respect for human rights as defined in the Convention and its Protocols does not require the Court to continue its examination of the case (see, by contrast WAZA Spółka z o.o. v. Poland (striking out), no. 11602/02, 26 June 2007).
20. This being so, the Court rejects the Government's request for the application to be struck out under Article 37 of the Convention and will accordingly pursue its examination of the admissibility and merits of the case.
II. ALLEGED VIOLATION OF ARTICLE 3 OF THE CONVENTION
21. The applicant complained that the conditions of his detention and the overcrowding in Siedlce Prison, where he had been held from 15 July to 15 October 2009 (91 days), 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."
22. The Government, having submitted a unilateral declaration, did not make detailed observations on the merits of the case.
23. The Court 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.
24. 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 against Poland (see Orchowski (cited above, §§ 119-131), Norbert Sikorski (cited above, §§ 126-141)), and in Muršić v. Croatia [GC], no. 7334/13, §§ 102-141 ECHR 2016.
25. 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).
26. The Court notes that the applicant was detained in overcrowded cells in Siedlce Prison from 15 July to 15 October 2009, that is after the systemic problem of overcrowding in Poland was considered to have been resolved (Orchowski, cited above, §§ 119-131 and Norbert Sikorski, cited above, §§ 126-141).
27. The Court further notes that the domestic courts established, in a finding that was uncontested by the applicant or the Government, that the applicant's detention in Siedlce Prison was marked by serious overcrowding for a period of 91 days. In particular, the personal space per prisoner was reduced to 2.65 m².
28. 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.
29. Having regard to the above findings, the Court considers that the distress and hardship endured by the applicant exceeded the unavoidable level of suffering inherent in detention and went beyond the threshold of severity under Article 3 of the Convention.
30. There has accordingly been a violation of that Article.
III. APPLICATION OF ARTICLE 41 OF THE CONVENTION
31. 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."
32. The applicant claimed PLN 8,180 (approximately EUR 2,045) in respect of non-pecuniary damage.
33. The Government did not express an opinion on the matter.
34. 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 24-30 above), which is not sufficiently redressed by the finding of a violation of his rights under the Convention. Making an assessment on an equitable basis, as required by Article 41 of the Convention, the Court awards the applicant EUR 1,800 under this head.
B. Costs and expenses
35. The applicant did not make any claim for costs and expenses for the proceedings before the Court or the domestic courts.
C. Default interest
36. 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. Rejects the Government's request to strike the application out of the list;
2. Declares the application admissible;
3. 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 EUR 1,800 (one thousand eight 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;
5. Dismisses the remainder of the applicant's claim for just satisfaction.
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