The ECHR ruling of March 11, 2021 in the case "Feilazoo (Feilazoo) v. Malta" (aplication No. 6865/19).
In 2019, the applicant was assisted in the preparation of the aplication. Subsequently, the aplication was communicated to Malta.
In the case, an aplication was successfully considered for interference in the correspondence between the applicant and the European Court of Human Rights and ineffective representation of the applicant's interests during the proceedings in the European Court within the framework of providing free legal assistance. The case involved a violation of the requirements of article 34, paragraph 1 of article 5 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE CASE
The applicant, a Nigerian national, was placed in an immigration center awaiting deportation. His detention lasted about 14 months.
The applicant complained, inter alia, about the conditions of his detention. With regard to the proceedings before the European Court, he claimed that he had not been able to correspond with the European Court without the intervention of the administration of the correctional institution and that he had been denied access to materials intended to substantiate his complaint.
Regarding compliance with article 3 of the Convention (conditions of detention). The Court was particularly struck by the fact that the applicant was kept alone in a container for almost 75 days without access to natural light or fresh air and that during the first 40 days he had no opportunity to exercise. Moreover, during this period, especially the first 40 days, the applicant was de facto in isolation. The applicant was placed in isolation at his request to ensure his own protection. However, the severity and duration of the measure taken, namely the fact that for at least 40 days the applicant had practically no contact with anyone, seemed excessive in the circumstances of the case. Apparently, the authorities did not take any measures to ensure that the applicant's physical and psychological condition allowed him to remain in isolation. They also did not seem to have considered any other alternatives to isolation in the specific circumstances of the case.
In addition, after the specified period, the applicant was transferred to other residential premises where the new arrivals (asylum seekers) were quarantined due to the COVID-19 epidemic. There was no indication that the applicant needed such quarantine, especially after a period of isolation that lasted almost seven weeks. Thus, his placement for several weeks together with other persons who could pose a danger to his health, in the absence of any relevant considerations in this regard, could not be considered to meet basic sanitary requirements.
There was a violation of article 3 of the Convention in the case (adopted unanimously).
Regarding compliance with article 34 of the Convention.
(a) Correspondence with the European Court. The authorities did not provide the applicant with the opportunity to obtain copies of documents that were necessary for him to substantiate his complaint, and confidential treatment was not provided for his correspondence in the case before the European Court. Information about ongoing proceedings in the European Court, openly transmitted through third parties against whom such complaints may be filed, may create a risk of reprisals. In this regard, although Maltese legislation provided for the possibility of filing complaints at the domestic level in confidence, this guarantee did not seem to apply to complaints and subsequent communication with international bodies.
In the circumstances of the present case, the violations committed by the Maltese authorities amounted to an unjustified interference with the applicant's right to file an individual complaint.
(b) Representation of interests in the provision of free legal assistance. The European Court has taken into account its case-law on Article 6 of the Convention: when fulfilling the obligation to provide free legal assistance to the parties to civil proceedings, the authorities must exercise diligence to ensure that these persons genuinely and effectively exercise their rights guaranteed by Article 6 of the Convention (See: The Ruling of the European Court in the case "Staroszczyk v. Poland" of March 22, 2007, complaint No. 59519/00; Judgment of the European Court in the case "Sialkowska v. Poland" (Sialkowska v. Poland) of March 22, 2007, complaint No. 8932/05; Judgment of the European Court in the case "Bakowska v. Poland" (Bąkowska v. Poland) of January 12, 2010, complaint No. 33539/02.).
In the present case, after notifying the Maltese authorities of a number of complaints, the applicant needed a lawyer for the purposes of the proceedings before the European Court. At this stage, the applicant was provided with free legal assistance and the domestic courts appointed him a local lawyer. However, this was not enough to "specifically and effectively" protect the applicant's right to file an individual complaint. The European Court left open the question of the quality of the recommendations given to the applicant, or whether pressure was exerted on him to withdraw his complaint. The applicant's local representative did not maintain regular confidential communication with her principal and refused her appointment without notifying the applicant (and/or the European Court) and without obtaining the cancellation of her appointment by domestic courts. As a result, contrary to her duties, she did not present arguments on behalf of the applicant at the request, which could have caused irreparable damage to the applicant's case. The Maltese authorities have been informed about this, but the State authorities have not taken any measures to improve the situation.
The development of the situation prompted the President of the Chamber of the European Court to take appropriate measures to protect the applicant's right to file an individual complaint. Nevertheless, the actions of the legal representative and the absence of any actions on the part of the State authorities led to a delay in the proceedings in the European Court, despite the fact that the case was considered as a priority. In such circumstances, these shortcomings amounted to ineffective representation in special circumstances, which entailed the responsibility of the authorities in accordance with the Convention.
The applicant persistently sought consideration of his case and contacted the relevant authorities to obtain relevant information or to file additional complaints, but to no avail. In the absence of any contact person, he informed the European Court of the situation. Consequently, he showed the necessary diligence, faithfully monitoring the progress of his case and trying to maintain effective contact with the appointed representatives, despite the difficulties he faced while in custody.
In the light of the above, the applicant found himself in a situation in which his attempts to exercise the right to file an individual complaint with the European Court with the help of a representative appointed within the framework of the domestic mechanism for providing free legal assistance failed due to obstacles from the Maltese authorities.
There was a violation of article 34 of the Convention in the case (adopted unanimously).
The European Court also unanimously ruled that there had been a violation of Article 5, paragraph 1, of the Convention, since the grounds for the applicant's detention (the measures taken to deport him) were not valid during the entire period of his deprivation of liberty, and, accordingly, his detention was unlawful.
In the application of article 41 of the Convention. The European Court awarded the applicant 25,000 euros in compensation for non-pecuniary damage, rejecting the claim for compensation for material damage.