Grimailovs v Latvia: ECHR 25 Jun 2013

ECHR Article 3
Degrading treatment
Lack of independent access to prison facilities for paraplegic prisoner; lack of organised assistance with his mobility and daily routine: violation
Facts – In June 2002 the applicant, who had a metal insert in his spine after breaking his back two years earlier, was given a five and a half year prison sentence. In his application to the Court, the applicant complained, inter alia, that the prison facilities were unsuitable for him as he was paraplegic and wheelchair-bound. In 2006 he was conditionally released.
Law – Article 3: The applicant had been detained for nearly two-and-a-half years in a regular detention facility which was not adapted for persons in a wheelchair. Although the Government had stated that the applicant had been placed in a special unit for inmates with health problems, the facilities did not appear to have had less architectural or technical barriers than the facilities in the ordinary wings of the prison. A ramp had been installed to facilitate wheelchair access to the outdoor yard, but other areas, such as the canteen, toilets, sauna, library, shop, gym, meeting room and telephone room had remained inaccessible. While the applicant had not been locked up in his cell during daytime and could move around in the living area of his unit, his ability to use the facilities had been restricted by his paraplegia. He did not have access to a shower and his weekly visits to the sauna had not provided him with an adequate opportunity to maintain his personal hygiene, given its inaccessibility and limited availability. Moreover, no measures had been adopted to alleviate the hardship caused by the inaccessibility of the sanitation facilities while meeting his wife for conjugal visits, which under Latvian legislation could last up to forty-eight hours. In exercising their wide margin of appreciation in deciding whether or not to allow conjugal visits, the States had to have due regard to the needs and resources of the community and of individuals. Placing the applicant in facilities where he could not properly wash and use the toilet, even if only for a limited period, could hardly be considered compatible with respect for his human dignity.
The applicant had had to rely on his fellow inmates to assist him with his daily routine and mobility around the prison, even though they had not been trained and did not have the necessary qualifications. Although the medical staff had visited the applicant in his cell for ordinary medical check-ups, they had not provided any assistance with his daily routine. The State’s obligation to ensure adequate conditions of detention included making provision for the special needs of prisoners with physical disabilities and the State could not absolve itself from that obligation by shifting the responsibility to cellmates.
In the light of the foregoing considerations and their cumulative effects, the conditions of the applicant’s detention in view of his physical disability and, in particular, his inability to have access to various prison facilities, including the sanitation facilities, independently and the lack of any organised assistance with his mobility around the prison or his daily routine, had reached the threshold of severity required to constitute degrading treatment.
Conclusion: violation (unanimously).
The Court also found a violation of Article 3 on account of the lack of an effective investigation into the applicant’s allegations of police ill-treatment in September 2001.
Article 41: EUR 6,000 in respect of non-pecuniary damage.
(See also Cuprakovs v. Latvia, no. 8543/04, 18 December 2012; Turzynski v. Poland (dec.), no. 61254/09, 17 April 2012; D.G. v. Poland, no. 45705/07, 12 February 2013; Todorov v. Bulgaria (dec.), no. 8321/11, 12 February 2013)

6087/03 – Legal Summary, [2013] ECHR 737
European Convention on Human Rights 3

Human Rights, Prisons

Updated: 18 November 2021; Ref: scu.514305