Case Muršić v. Croatia [GC]

Importance Nature Application Number Case language State Date (dd/mm/yyyy)
4 Judgement 7334/13 English Croatia 20/10/2016

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Muršić v. Croatia [GC] - 7334/13

Article 3

Limited personal space in multi-occupancy prison accommodation: violation, no violations

In this case, the Grand Chamber was called upon to clarify the principles and standards for the assessment of the minimum personal space per detainee in multi-occupancy accommodation in prisons under Article 3 of the Convention

The Grand Chamber in this judgment did not consider itself bound by the European and International standards, especially the CPT’s available space standards (§§109-115). It then clarified the methodology for the calculation of the minimum personal space: (1) the in-cell sanitary facility should not be counted in the overall surface area of the cell; (2) calculation of the available surface area in the cell should include space occupied by furniture: in this regard, “what is important in this assessment is whether detainees had a possibility to move around within the cell normally”.

That said, it established its own standards :

  • In cases where a detainee disposed of more than 4 sq. m of personal space in multi-occupancy accommodation in prison and where therefore no issue with regard to the question of personal space arises, the other aspects of physical conditions of detention remained relevant for the Court’s assessment of adequacy of an applicant’s conditions of detention (see Story and Others v. Malta, nos. 56854/13, 57005/13 and 57043/13, §§ 112-113, 29 October 2015)
  • In cases where a prison cell measuring in the range of 3-4 sq. m of personal space per inmate was at issue, space remained a weighty factor in the Court’s assessment of the adequacy of conditions of detention. In such instances a violation of Article 3 would be found if the space factor was coupled with other aspects of inappropriate physical conditions of detention related to, in particular, access to outdoor exercise, natural light or air, availability of ventilation, adequacy of room temperature, the possibility of using the toilet in private, and compliance with basic sanitary and hygienic requirements;
  • There is a strong presomption of violation where the personal space available to a detainee fell below 3 sq. m of floor surface in multi-occupancy accommodation in prisons. The burden of proof is on the respondent Government which could, however, rebut that presumption by demonstrating that there were factors capable of adequately compensating for the scarce allocation of personal space.It would normally be the case only if the following factors were cumulatively met: (1) the reductions in the required minimum personal space of 3 sq. m were short, occasional and minor; (2 such reductions were accompanied by sufficient freedom of movement outside the cell and adequate out-of-cell activities ; (3) the applicant is confined in what is, when viewed generally, an appropriate detention facility, and there are no other aggravating aspects of the conditions of his or her detention. With regard to the question of sufficient freedom of movement, the Court referred to the relevant CPT standards according to which all prisoners must be allowed at least one hour of exercise in the open air every day and preferably as part of a broader programme of out-of-cell activities, bearing in mind that outdoor exercise facilities should be reasonably spaciousand whenever possible offer shelter from inclement weatherThe Court recall that, according to the relevant international standards prisoners should be able to spend a reasonable part of the day outside their cells, engaged in purposeful activity of a varied nature (work, recreation, education), and that regimes in establishments for sentenced prisoners should be even more favourable. In short, when considering whether measures of compensation invoked are capable of rebutting the strong presumption of a violation of Article 3, the Court will have regard to factors such as: the time and extent of restriction; freedom of movement and adequacy of out-of-cell activities; and general appropriateness of the detention facility.

In the present case, the Court concluded that there has been a violation of Article 3 as regards the period of 27 days in which the applicant disposed of less than 3 sq. m of personal space, without assessing the other aspects of the material conditions of detention.  As regards the remainder of the non-consecutive periods in which the applicant disposed of less than 3 sq. m of personal space (from 1 to 8 days), the Court considered that there as been no violation of Article 3 (ten votes to seven). The applicant had been detained in generally appropriate conditions, the non-consecutive periods could be regarded as short and minor reductions in personal space, during which sufficient freedom of movement and out-of-cell activities had been available to him (the inmates were allowed to move freely outside their cells in the morning and afternoon, and to use the indoor and outdoor facilities of Bjelovar Prison).

Three partly dissenting opinion were annexed to the judgement (a joint partly dissenting opinion of Judges Sajó, López Guerra and Wojtyczek; a joint partly dissenting opinion of Judges Lazarova Trajkovska, De Gaetano and Grozev; a partly dissenting opinion of Judge Pinto de Albuquerque.