Volodya Avetisyan v. Armenia (European Court of Human Rights)

Information Note on the Court’s case-law 262
May 2022

Volodya Avetisyan v. Armenia – 39087/15

Judgment 3.5.2022 [Section IV]

Article 13
Effective remedy

Ineffective domestic judicial remedies for complaints as to inadequate conditions of detention: violation

Facts – The applicant was held in pre-trial detention for approximately a year and a half. He alleged that the cells in the prison were overcrowded and that there were a number of other inadequacies in detention conditions.

At domestic level, the applicant lodged a complaint with the General Jurisdiction Court of a district (“the District Court”), asking them to acknowledge and put an end to the ongoing violation of his rights under Article 3 resulting from his detention conditions, and to provide compensation in respect of non-pecuniary damage. His complaint was dismissed for being outside the competence of the District Court, and that the matter fell rather within the competence of the Administrative Court. On appeal, the Civil Court of Appeal quashed the decision against the applicant, reasoning that the applicant’s application had raised criminal-law matters which came within the scope of the courts of general jurisdiction, whereas the District Court had examined it under the rules of civil procedure. Subsequently, the District Court again declared the applicant’s application inadmissible under the rules of civil procedure. The applicant appealed unsuccessfully up to the Court of Cassation.

Law – Article 13 in conjunction with Article 3:

The Government had argued that the applicant had failed to exhaust domestic remedies. The issue was closely linked to the merits of the applicant’s complaint that he had not had at his disposal an effective remedy for his complaint under Article 3 regarding the alleged inadequate conditions of his detention. The Court therefore joined the Government’s objection to the merits of the complaint under Article 13.

The Court had previously rejected objections of non-exhaustion raised by the Armenian Government in cases concerning inadequate conditions of detention (Kirakosyan v. Armenia; Gaspari v. Armenia). In the present case, the Government had raised a new ground for its objection, mainly based on the argument that, by submitting a civil claim instead of instituting administrative or criminal proceedings, the applicant had made use of a clearly futile remedy. The Government, however, had failed to submit any argument or evidence regarding the effectiveness of those remedies in respect of the applicant’s particular complaints:

Firstly, it was not clear what result could have been achieved in the applicant’s situation by applying to a judicial authority, whether administrative or criminal, against the penitentiary service and the prison authority, considering that the issues raised had apparently been of a structural nature. The Government had failed to explain the scope of such potential judicial review and the kind of redress the applicant could have obtained had he pursued any of those remedies, in particular, any preventive and compensatory measures that the courts could have ordered. They had neither referred to any specific domestic rules nor provided any examples of domestic judicial decisions taken in relevantly similar cases.

Secondly, there had been confusion in domestic law and practice at the material time as to which procedure – administrative or criminal – had to be pursued when lodging complaints against penitentiary authorities, with disagreement on the matter between the District Court and Court of Appeal. The Government had also referred to both remedies without, however, clarifying which of the two had been applicable to the applicant’s case. That ambiguity had been acknowledged in 2019 by the Constitutional Court, which had called for legislative amendments in order to resolve the issue and, pending such changes, had assigned such cases, with some exceptions, to the Administrative Court. The remedies referred to had therefore, in addition, lacked the requisite clarity at the material time.

Thirdly, the Government’s argument that the applicant had had to apply to the Constitutional Court, in order to have his claim subsequently examined by the Administrative Court, could not be accepted. The Court had previously held that the constitutional remedy was generally not considered as a domestic remedy to be exhausted due to the specificities of the judicial role of the Armenian Constitutional Court (see Gevorgyan and Others v. Armenia (dec.)) and there was no reason to depart from that conclusion in the present case.

For those reasons, none of the judicial review proceedings indicated by the Government had provided an effective domestic remedy for the applicant’s complaints regarding the allegedly inadequate conditions of detention, had been available both in theory and in practice, and been capable of preventing the continuation of the alleged violation and, if necessary, providing compensation for the damage sustained, as required by Article 13.

Conclusion: Preliminary objection dismissed; violation (unanimously).

The Court also held, unanimously, that there had been a violation of Article 3 (substantive aspect), in that the cumulative effects of the applicant’s conditions of detention, including the amount of personal space accorded to him, had amounted to degrading treatment.

Article 41: EUR 3,900 in respect of non-pecuniary damage.

(See also Kirakosyan v. Armenia, 31237/03, 2 December 2008; Gaspari v. Armenia, 44769/08, 20 September 2018; Gevorgyan and Others v. Armenia (dec.), 66535/10, 14 January 2020)

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