EGMR: Rejection by authorities of prisoner’s request to attend mother’s funeral was unjustified (no. 20323/14)

In today’s Chamber judgment in the case of Kanalas v. Romania (application no. 20323/14) the European Court of Human Rights held, by a majority, that there had been: a violation of Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) of the European Convention on Human Rights, and a violation of Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life).

The case concerned the conditions in which Mr Kanalas was held in the prisons of Oradea and Rahova, and the rejection by the prison administration of his request for leave in order to attend his mother’s funeral.

The Court found – as it had already found in respect of the same prisons – that the conditions of the applicant’s detention breached Article 3 of the Convention.

The Court reiterated that the right to prison leave was not guaranteed as such by the Convention and that it was for the national authorities to examine the merits of each request. In the circumstances of the case, the Court took the view that the reasons given by the national authorities when refusing to grant Mr Kanalas leave to attend his mother’s funeral did not suffice to show that the interference in question was “necessary in a democratic society”. As a result, his right to respect for private and family life had been breached.

Principal fact

The applicant, Florian Kanalas, was born in 1969. Since 25 April 2016 he has been imprisoned in Satu Mare (Romania).

In 2011 Mr Kanalas was sentenced to 12 and a half years in prison on a charge of attempted murder; his sentence was later reduced to 10 years. He was held in the prisons of Oradea and Rahova, and he complained about the conditions of his detention.

In 2014 Mr Kanalas asked the governor of Oradea prison to grant him leave so that he could attend his mother’s funeral, but his request was rejected on the grounds, in particular, that his remaining sentence left to serve was too long and that he had already been rewarded in the same month. He unsuccessfully filed a criminal complaint for abuse of authority against the governor of Oradea prison.

Complaints, procedure and composition of the Cour

Relying on Article 3 (prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment), Mr Kanalas complained about the conditions in which he was held in the prisons of Oradea and Rahova. Relying on Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life), Mr Kanalas complained about the refusal of the prison authorities to grant him permission to attend his mother’s funeral. The application was lodged with the European Court of Human Rights on 19 March 2014.

Judgment was given by a Chamber of seven judges, composed as follows:

  • András Sajó (Hungary), President,
  • Nona Tsotsoria (Georgia),
  • Paulo Pinto de Albuquerque (Portugal),
  • Egidijus Kūris (Lithuania),
  • Iulia Motoc (Romania),
  • Gabriele Kucsko-Stadlmayer (Austria),
  • Marko Bošnjak (Slovenia),
  • and also Marialena Tsirli, Section Registrar.

Decision of the Court

Article 3

The Court noted that Mr Kanalas had alleged in particular that he had endured situations of overcrowding in Oradea and Rahova prisons. It had previously found that the conditions of detention in Romanian prisons, particularly with regard to overcrowding and poor hygiene, constituted a structural problem.

The Court observed that Mr Kanalas’ allegations about a lack of appropriate lighting and ventilation, and the poor quality of the food, reflected actual conditions that it had already observed in the past as regards the prisons in question.

Having regard in particular to the fact that he had personal cell space of less than 3 sq. m, together with the length of the deprivation of liberty, Mr Kanalas had experienced detention conditions which were above the threshold of seriousness under Article 3, having been subjected to hardship exceeding the inevitable level of suffering associated with detention. There had thus been a violation of Article 3.

Article 8

The Court noted that the interference in question had been in accordance with the law (sections 98 [1] and 99 [1]) of Law no. 254/2013). In addition, taking into account the seriousness of the crime committed, punishable by a heavy prison sentence, this interference pursued a legitimate aim because it sought to prevent Mr Kanalas from using leave to commit offences or to cause a breach of the peace. The Court then examined whether this measure was necessary in a democratic society.

As regards the offence for which Mr Kanalas had been sentenced and the length of his prison sentence, the Court had previously recognised the legitimate aim of a policy of gradual social rehabilitation of prisoners. The Court had found that measures of temporary leave could contribute to the social rehabilitation of prisoners, even where they had been convicted of violent crimes. In addition, in cases also concerning the question of prison leave for family reasons, it had not attached paramount weight to the offence of which the applicants in question had been convicted.

Moreover, the Court noted that Mr Kanalas had already been rewarded on numerous occasions for his conduct and that the head of the prison in which he was held had been in favour of granting his request. The Court observed that, according to the internal procedure established by the National Prison Service, the principle of limiting rewards to one per month did not apply in the case of permission for prison leave to attend the funeral of a family member. According to the legislation, the fact that Mr Kanalas had just been rewarded in March 2014 should not have counted against him.

Lastly, the Court observed that the prison administration had not examined the possibility of providing Mr Kanalas with an escort to the place of the funeral.

The Court concluded that the national authorities had not weighed in the balance the various interests at stake, namely Mr Kanalas’ right to respect for his family life, on the one hand, and public safety, or the prevention of disorder or crime, on the other.

The Court reiterated that the right to prison leave was not guaranteed as such by the Convention and that it was for the national authorities to examine the merits of each request. In the circumstances of the case, the Court took the view that the reasons given by the national authorities when refusing to grant Mr Kanalas leave to attend his mother’s funeral did not suffice to show that the interference in question was “necessary in a democratic society”. As a result there had been a violation of Article 8 of the Convention.

Just satisfaction (Article 41)

The Court held that Romania was to pay the applicant € 15,000 in respect of non-pecuniary damage.

Press release ECHR 397 (2016) 06/12/2016

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