Helander v Finland (Dec): ECHR 10 Sep 2013

Article 8-1 – Respect for correspondence – Refusal by prison authorities to transmit to prisoner e-mail from his lawyer: inadmissible
Facts – While the applicant was in prison, his lawyer sent him an e-mail using the prison’s e-mail account. The prison governor refused to transfer the e-mail to the applicant and advised the lawyer to contact the applicant by post or telephone. The domestic law did not require the prison authorities to forward to prisoners e-mail communications which arrived at the prison’s electronic address. The applicant unsuccessfully applied to the domestic courts for an order directing the prison governor to transmit the e-mail to him.
Law – Article 8: Even though the electronic message in question had been submitted to the prison’s common electronic mailbox, it was nevertheless destined for the applicant and accompanied with a request that it be transmitted to him. The message thus fell within the scope of ‘correspondence’ for the purposes of Article 8 of the Convention. The domestic law was based on the principle that prisoners’ contacts with their lawyers were to be made by post, telephone or visits. Similar principles were found in the European Prison Rules. The Court accepted that the aforementioned means were sufficient and that the choice of introducing a possibility of receiving e-mails should be left to legislators. The Finnish legal system in respect of prisoners’ correspondence was drafted clearly and fulfilled the requirements of the Convention and the positive obligations imposed on the respondent State. There were legitimate reasons not to allow e-mails as the current legislation could not guarantee lawyer-client confidentiality in respect of such communications. The refusal by the domestic authorities to transmit the e-mail to the applicant could not be regarded as disproportionate. The sender had been immediately informed of the non-delivery and instructed to use proper means of communication. He had had several means of communication available which were as effective and rapid as e-mails. His failure to use them was not attributable to the respondent State. Hence, having regard to the margin of appreciation left to the State, the domestic authorities’ refusal to transmit the e-mail message in question to the applicant could not be regarded as unjustified. In particular, a fair balance had been struck between the different interests involved.
Conclusion: inadmissible (manifestly ill-founded).

10410/10 – Legal Summary, [2013] ECHR 963
European Convention on Human Rights
Human Rights

Human Rights, Prisons, Legal Professions

Updated: 21 November 2021; Ref: scu.516472