Case Biržietis v.Lithuania

Importance Nature Application Number Case language State Date (dd/mm/yyyy)
3 Judgement 49304/09 langs.en,fr Lithuania 14/06/2016

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Biržietis v. Lithuania - 49304/09

Article 8-1

Absolute prohibition on growing a beard in prison: violation

Facts - The applicant, Rimantas Biržietis, is a Lithuanian national who served a prison sentence at the Marijampolė Correctional Facility from November 2006 to December 2009. During this time he was prohibited from growing a beard by the internal rules of the facility. Those rules – shown to and signed by Mr Biržietis on the first day of his sentence at the facility – placed an absolute prohibition on prisoners growing a beard, irrespective of its length, tidiness or any other considerations and did not allow for any exceptions. During his detention, he made two requests to the prison authorities to allow him to grow a beard, submitting that he had undergone radiation treatment for tongue cancer and shaving therefore irritated his skin. Both his requests were, however, rejected after a medical examination did not identify any such health problems. Mr Biržietis therefore brought judicial proceedings in December 2007 to complain about the prohibition. The courts found in his favour at first instance, but this judgment was subsequently overturned in March 2009 by the Supreme Administrative Court.

Law - It was not in dispute between the parties that the prohibition on Mr Biržietis growing a beard while in prison had constituted an interference with his right to respect for his private life. Furthermore, the Court was prepared to accept that that interference had had a legal basis in domestic law, as established in the Internal Rules of the Marijampolė Correctional Facility and as shown to and signed by Mr Biržietis on his first day in that facility. However, the Court considered that the absolute prohibition on prisoners growing a beard, irrespective of its hygienic, aesthetic or other characteristics, had not been proportionate to the aim, submitted by the Government, of – among other things – preventing disorder and crime among prisoners. Indeed, in a similar complaint lodged before the Parliamentary Ombudsperson and decided around the same time as Mr Biržietis’ complaints had been examined by the Lithuanian courts, the Ombudsperson had concluded that such a prohibition could not be justified by hygiene requirements or by the need to identify prisoners. Lastly, in Mr Biržietis’ case the prohibition had not apparently affected other types of facial hair, such as moustaches or sideburns, thus raising concerns that the ban only on beards had been arbitrary (§57). The Court therefore concluded that the Government had failed to demonstrate that there was a pressing social need to justify an absolute prohibition on Mr Biržietis deciding to grow a beard while in prison, a decision which had been related to his right to express his personality and identity as protected under Article 8 of the Convention (§58). There had therefore been a violation of Article 8 of the Convention.