CASE OF STEPONAVICIUS v. LITHUANIA (European Court of Human Rights)

SECOND SECTION
CASE OF STEPONAVIČIUS v. LITHUANIA
(Application no. 6982/18)

JUDGMENT
STRASBOURG
17 December 2019

This judgment is final but it may be subject to editorial revision.

In the case of Steponavičius v. Lithuania,

The European Court of Human Rights (Second Section), sitting as a Committee composed of:

Valeriu Griţco, President,
Egidijus Kūris,
Darian Pavli, judges,
and Hasan Bakırcı, Deputy Section Registrar,

Having deliberated in private on 26 November 2019,

Delivers the following judgment, which was adopted on that date:

PROCEDURE

1. The case originated in an application (no. 6982/18) against the Republic of Lithuania lodged with the Court under Article 34 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (“the Convention”) by a Lithuanian national, Mr Danas Steponavičius (“the applicant”), on 30 January 2018.

2. The Lithuanian Government (“the Government”) were represented by their Agent, Ms L. Urbaitė.

3. On 31 January 2019the application was communicated to the Government.

THE FACTS

I. THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE CASE

4. The applicant was born in 1979 and is detained in Vilnius.

5. The applicant was detained in Lukiškės Remand Prison from an unspecified date in 2011 to 5 August 2015.

6. On 25 July 2016 he lodged a civil claim against the State, alleging that he had been detained in overcrowded and unsanitary cells. He claimed 100,000 euros (EUR) in respect of non-pecuniary damage.

7. On 30 September 2016 the Vilnius Regional Administrative Court allowed the applicant’s claim in part. It firstly held that the time-limit for claiming damages was three years after the damage arose, and accordingly dismissed the part of the applicant’s claim concerning the period before 26 July 2013 as time-barred. The court then examined the documents provided by the prison administration and found that, during the entire remaining period, the applicant had had more than 3.6 sq. m of personal space, in line with the domestic law. It also dismissed the applicant’s complaints concerning insufficient furniture in the cells, inadequate ventilation and lack of cleaning equipment. However, the court considered that the prison administration had failed to refute the applicant’s allegations that there had been fungus in the cells, that the lighting had been insufficient and that there had been no toilets in the prison gym. Furthermore, the court found that the sanitary units in the cells had been separated from the rest of the cells by a 1.5-metre partition, which had not ensured sufficient privacy for the applicant when using the facilities because he could have been seen by other detainees and prison guards. Accordingly, the court concluded that the conditions of the applicant’s detention had not complied with the domestic requirements, and awarded him EUR 200 in respect of non-pecuniary damage.

8. The applicant lodged an appeal against that decision, and on 11 October 2017 the Supreme Administrative Court allowed his appeal in part. It upheld the lower court’s findings on the conditions of the applicant’s detention. It further observed that in his complaint the applicant had alleged that he had been unable to take a shower in private and that the showers had lacked shelves, mirrors and hangers. Since the prison administration had not refuted those allegations, the Supreme Administrative Court ruled in favour of the applicant. It increased the award in respect of non-pecuniary damage to EUR 400.

II. RELEVANT DOMESTIC LAW AND PRACTICE and international material

9. For the relevant domestic law and practice and international material, see Mironovas and Others v. Lithuania (nos. 40828/12 and 6 others, §§ 50‑69, 8 December 2015) and Oskirko v. Lithuania ([Committee], no. 14411/16, §§ 16-17, 25 September 2018).

THE LAW

I. ALLEGED VIOLATION OF ARTICLE 3 OF THE CONVENTION

10. The applicant submitted that during his detention in Lukiškės Remand Prison he had been kept in overcrowded and unsanitary cells, and that the compensation awarded to him by domestic courts was insufficient. He relied on Article 3 of the Convention, which reads as follows:

“No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

A. Admissibility

11. The Court notes that the application is not manifestly ill-founded within the meaning of Article 35 § 3 (a) of the Convention, nor is it inadmissible on any other grounds. It must therefore be declared admissible.

B. Merits

1. The parties’ submissions

12. The applicant submitted that he had been detained in overcrowded and unsanitary cells, that the toilets had not been properly separated from the rest of the cells, and that he had been confined to his cells for twenty-three hours a day.

13. The Government submitted that the conditions of the applicant’s detention had been adequate. During the relevant period of his detention (from 26 July 2013 to 5 August 2015 – see paragraph 7 above) he had had between 3.82 and 7.94 sq. m of personal space. The Government pointed out that the domestic courts had dismissed several of the applicant’s allegations concerning the sanitary conditions in the cells, and that his other complaints had been upheld solely because of the prison administration’s failure to refute them and not on the basis of any actual evidence (see paragraphs 7 and 8 above). The Government provided to the Court several reports by domestic public health authorities which had examined some of the cells in which the applicant had been detained and found the conditions in those cells to be appropriate; the examinations of the cells had been carried out in November 2015 and April and December 2016. As for the cells which had not been examined by the public health authorities, the Government submitted that renovation works had been carried out at Lukiškės Remand Prison since 2012 and that the prison administration took all the necessary measures in order to meet the domestic hygiene requirements.

14. The Government lastly submitted that the applicant had been employed and that during his free time from work he had had the opportunity to go to the chapel, library or gym, as well as to take part in various cultural and sports activities regularly organised by the prison administration. They therefore argued that the conditions of the applicant’s detention had been in accordance with Article 3 of the Convention.

2. The Court’s assessment

15. At the outset the Court observes that it has no reason to question the findings of the domestic courts that during the period of detention under consideration in the present case (from 26 July 2013 to 5 August 2015) the applicant had sufficient personal space (see paragraphs 7, 8 and 13 above).

16. In this connection, the Court reiterates that in cases where a prison cell – measuring in the range of 3 to 4 sq. m of personal space per inmate – is at issue, the space factor remains a weighty factor in the Court’s assessment of the adequacy of conditions of detention. In such instances a violation of Article 3 will be found if the space factor is coupled with other aspects of inappropriate physical conditions of detention related to, in particular, access to outdoor exercise, natural light or air, availability of ventilation, adequacy of room temperature, the possibility of using the toilet in private, and compliance with basic sanitary and hygienic requirements. The Court has also stressed that in cases where a detainee disposed of more than 4 sq. m of personal space in multi-occupancy accommodation in prison and where therefore no issue with regard to the question of personal space arises, other aspects of physical conditions of detention remain relevant for the Court’s assessment of adequacy of an applicant’s conditions of detention under Article 3 of the Convention (see Muršić v. Croatia [GC], no. 7334/13, §§ 139-40, 20 October 2016).

17. In the present case, the domestic courts upheld the applicant’s complaints concerning fungus in the cells, insufficient lighting, the absence of toilets in the prison gym, the inability to take a shower in private and a lack of shelves, mirrors and hangers in the showers, on the grounds that the prison administration had failed to present evidence refuting them (see paragraphs 7 and 8 above). The Government provided to the Court reports by domestic public health authorities, according to which the conditions in some of the applicant’s cells had been adequate (see paragraph 13 above). However, the Court observes that the authorities’ reports concerned periods when the applicant was no longer detained in Lukiškės Remand Prison (see paragraphs 5 and 13 above), and it is therefore unable to accept that those reports are relevant for the assessment of the conditions of the applicant’s detention. The Court also notes that the Government did not provide any other information that would enable it to reach a different conclusion from the domestic courts with regard to the overall sanitary conditions of the applicant’s detention.

18. The Court observes in particular that the domestic courts found that the sanitary units had not been properly separated from the rest of the applicant’s cells and thus that he could have been seen by other detainees and prison guards when using those facilities (see paragraph 7 above). The Government did not dispute this conclusion. The Court has already noted in many previous cases the inappropriateness of conditions of detention which do not allow for the ability to use the toilet in private (see Mandić and Jović v. Slovenia, nos. 5774/10 and 5985/10, § 76, 20 October 2011; Ananyev and Others v. Russia, nos. 42525/07 and 60800/08, §§ 149 and 157, 10 January 2012; Shkarupa v. Russia, no. 36461/05, §§ 55-56, 15 January 2015; Neshkov and Others v. Bulgaria, nos. 36925/10 and 5 others, § 241, 27 January 2015; and Muršić, cited above, § 106). Furthermore, it has upheld several complaints concerning insufficient partitioning of toilets in Lukiškės Remand Prison (see Oskirko v. Lithuania [Committee], no. 14411/16, §§ 43-45, 25 September 2018, and Višniakovas v. Lithuania [Committee], no. 25988/16, §§ 31-33, 18 December 2018). There is nothing that would enable the Court to reach a different conclusion in the present case.

19. Lastly, it does not escape the Court’s attention that the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (“the CPT”), after visiting Lukiškės Remand Prison in 2008 and 2012, found that nearly all detainees were locked up in their cells for twenty-three hours a day, with no out-of-cell activities other than outdoor exercise for a period of one hour in small and dilapidated yards, and its findings following a visit in 2016 were similar (see Mironovas and Others v. Lithuania, nos. 40828/12 and 6 others, §§ 65 and 67, 8 December 2015, and Oskirko, cited above, § 16). While the Government stated that the applicant had been employed, they did not provide any details of his work schedule, such as the number of hours per day and days per week that the applicant had been able to spend outside of his cell (see paragraph 14 above). Furthermore, irrespective of certain leisure activities in which the applicant could participate, the Court nonetheless observes that he was not able to freely move around the prison during the day and remained confined to his cell for the majority of the time (see Daktaras v. Lithuania (dec.) [Committee], no. 78123/13, § 48, 3 July 2018, and Višniakovas, cited above, § 32; compare and contrast Mironovas and Others, §§ 134 and 139, and Muršić, §§ 155-63, both cited above).

20. Accordingly, the Court concludes that from 26 July 2013 to 5 August 2015 the applicant was detained in cells with fungus, insufficient lighting and inadequate equipment, without the possibility of using the toilets and showers in private and without sufficient out-of-cell activities. This must have caused him distress or hardship of an intensity exceeding the unavoidable level of suffering inherent in detention, and aroused in him feelings of fear, anguish and inferiority capable of humiliating and debasing him.

21. There has therefore been a violation of Article 3 of the Convention on account of the conditions of the applicant’s detention in Lukiškės Remand Prison for 741 days from 26 July 2013 to 5 August 2015.

II. APPLICATION OF ARTICLE 41 OF THE CONVENTION

22. 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.”

23. Regard being had to the documents in its possession and to its case-law, the Court considers it reasonable to award the applicant 10,300 euros (EUR) in respect of non-pecuniary damage.

24. 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. Declaresthe application admissible;

2. Holdsthat there has been a violation of Article 3 of the Convention;

3. Holds

(a) that the respondent State is to pay the applicant, within three months,EUR 10,300 (ten thousand three hundred euros), plus any tax that may be chargeable, in respect of non-pecuniary damage;

(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. Dismissesthe remainder of the applicant’s claim for just satisfaction.

Done in English, and notified in writing on 17 December 2019, pursuant to Rule 77 §§ 2 and 3 of the Rules of Court.

Hasan Bakırcı                         Valeriu Griţco
Deputy Registrar                      President

SHEIN Many GEO's

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