ECHR judgment of 28 May 2019 in the case of Clasens v. Belgium (application No. 26564/16).
In 2016, the applicant was assisted in preparing the application. Subsequently, the application was communicated to Belgium.
In the case, an application was successfully considered regarding the lack of a minimum provision for the needs of prisoners during a strike of correctional workers. In the case there was a violation of the requirements of Articles 3, 13 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
Circumstances of the case
In the spring of 2016, strikes by correctional staff were held in Brussels and the Walloon Region of Belgium. In the absence of guaranteed minimum security in the correctional institutions of Belgium, the strike led to the suspension, to varying degrees, of the conditions of the regular regime of serving sentences in various institutions.
Throughout the duration of the strike, for about two months, the applicant did not have access to any activities outside his cell: he was in the cell around the clock, with the exception of a one-hour walk every three days in the walking courtyard. He had access to a shower once or twice a week, and the provision of hygiene products was suspended, so the applicant could not get them.
Since the start of the strike, several prisoners, including the applicant, went to court and received a court order ordering the state to ensure, under the threat of fines, the presence of a minimum number of employees to ensure the basic needs of prisoners in prison. Despite the intervention of the director of the prison and then the police, the regularity of basic services was not restored: the conditions of detention did not significantly improve. In 2017, the court of appeal reduced the fine, but upheld the conviction of a violation of the right to respect for human dignity.
QUESTIONS OF LAW
Regarding compliance with Article 3 of the Convention (substantive aspect). The on-site observers described in the same way the material conditions of detention in the respective prison during the strike (see above). The Court of Appeal also referred to this description and concluded that a similar situation encroached on respect for human dignity.
The existing material conditions of detention were supplemented by the consequences of the constant failure of the prison staff to fulfill their functions during the strike: the prisoners were dependent on the refusal of a large number of employees of the institutions to work and had to put up with the irregular and unstable provision of minimum services, without knowing when the strike will end, and therefore, not knowing about the possible prospects for improving the situation. They were deprived of almost all contacts with the outside world, namely telephone conversations, visits of relatives and meetings with lawyers.
There was an acute shortage of staff in the penitentiary institution. From the conclusions drawn from visits to the facility during the strike, it did not follow that the presence of police officers, whose main tasks included ensuring security and surveillance, led to a significant improvement in the daily lives of prisoners.
The cumulative effect of the continued lack of physical activity, repeated violations of hygiene rules, lack of contact with the outside world and uncertainty regarding the satisfaction of basic needs undoubtedly caused the applicant more suffering than that which was inevitable in custody. These conditions of detention constituted degrading treatment.
In the case there was a violation of the requirements of Article 3 of the Convention (adopted unanimously).
Concerning compliance with Article 3 of the Convention in conjunction with Article 13 of the Convention. The constant failure to fulfill their functions on the part of correctional staff during the strike made it impossible to execute a court order that satisfied the applicant's requirements, since the provision of minimal services to prisoners in any case depended on the course of the strike.
Given this fundamental structural flaw, the applicant did not have legal remedies capable of rectifying the situation of which he became a victim and preventing the continuation of the alleged violations.
There was a violation of Article 3 of the Convention in conjunction with Article 13 of the Convention (adopted unanimously).
In application of Article 41 of the Convention. The Court awarded the applicant EUR 3,480 in respect of non-pecuniary damage.