ECHR Grand Chamber – Article 3
Use of metal cage to hold defendants during criminal trial: violation
Facts – Both applicants were charged with criminal offences including robbery. In a series of court appearances during the trial proceedings, they were confined in a caged enclosure measuring about 1.5 by 2.5 metres and formed by metal rods on four sides and a wire ceiling.
In a judgment of 11 December 2012, a Chamber of the Court held unanimously that their confinement to the cage had constituted degrading treatment in breach of Article 3 of the Convention.
Law – Article 3: The Government submitted that recourse to a cage had been justified to ensure proper conditions for holding the trial, having regard to the violent nature of the offences charged, the applicants’ criminal records and the victims’ and witnesses’ fears of the applicants.
The Court observed that while order and security in the courtroom were indispensable for the proper administration of justice, the means used to achieve that end must not involve measures of restraint of such severity as to bring them within the scope of Article 3, which prohibited torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in absolute terms.
The applicants had been tried in open court by a jury. The hearings had been attended by some 70 witnesses. In these circumstances, their exposure to the public eye in a cage must have undermined their image and aroused in them feelings of humiliation, helplessness, fear, anguish and inferiority. They had been subjected to this treatment throughout the trial, which had lasted for over a year, with several hearings almost every month. They must also have had objectively justified fears that their exposure in a cage would undermine the presumption of innocence by conveying to the judges the impression that they were dangerous. The Court found no convincing arguments to show that holding a defendant in a cage during a trial was a necessary means of physically restraining him, preventing his escape, dealing with disorderly or aggressive behaviour, or protecting him against aggression from the outside. Its continued practice could therefore only be understood as a means of degrading and humiliating the caged person. Accordingly, the applicants had been subjected to distress of an intensity exceeding the unavoidable level of suffering inherent in their detention during a court appearance, and their confinement in a cage had attained the ‘minimum level of severity’ to bring it within the scope of Article 3.
A series of Chamber judgments had in recent years found a violation of Article 3 in cases where the use of a cage was not justified by security considerations. However, the Grand Chamber did not consider that the use of cages in this context could ever be justified under Article 3. In any event, even assuming it could be, the Government’s allegation that the applicants represented a threat to security had not been substantiated.
The Court reiterated that the very essence of the Convention was respect for human dignity and that the object and purpose of the Convention as an instrument for the protection of individual human beings required that its provisions were interpreted and applied so as to make its safeguards practical and effective. In view of its objectively degrading nature, holding a person in a metal cage during trial in itself constituted an affront to human dignity. The applicants’ confinement in a metal cage in the courtroom had thus amounted to degrading treatment in breach of Article 3.
Conclusion: violation (unanimously).
The Court also found, unanimously, a violation of Article 6 – 1 on account of the length of the criminal proceedings.
Article 41: EUR 10,000 each in respect of non-pecuniary damage.
Dean Spielmann, P
32541/08 43441/08 – Grand Chamber Judgment,  ECHR 790,  ECHR 973, 32541/08 43441/08 – Legal Summary,  ECHR 1074
Bailii, Bailii, Bailii
European Convention on Human Rights, European Convention on Human Rights
Human Rights, Criminal Practice
Updated: 22 December 2021; Ref: scu.537551