Case W. D. v. Belgium

Importance Nature Application Number Case language State Date (dd/mm/yyyy)
1 Judgement 73548/13 English Belgium 06/09/2016

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W.D. v. Belgium - 73548/13

Article 46

Pilot judgment

General measures

Respondent State required to reduce number of detainees held in prison psychiatric wings without access to suitable therapeutic treatment

Article 3

Degrading treatment

Structural problem resulting in detention for more than nine years in psychiatric wing of prison with no prospect of change or appropriate medical help: violation


The applicant was condemned in 2006 for indecently assaulting a person under the age of sixteen. The domestic court noted he lacked criminal responsibility and suffered from a mental disorder. Since 2007 he had been detained in a social protection unit at Merksplas Prison.

Complaint under Article 3

The applicant complained that he had been detained in a prison environment for more than nine years without any appropriate treatment for his mental condition or any realistic project of reintegrating into society. The Court first noted that it had declared in several previous landmark cases that there as a structural problem in Belgium regarding mental healthcare for prisoners (see L.B. v. Belgium, no.22831/08, 2 October 2012; Claes v. Belgium, no. 43418/09, 10 January 2013; Dufoort v. Belgium, no. 43653/09, 10 January 2013; Swennen v. Belgium, no. 53448/10, 10 January 2013) and that there are some forty similar cases pending before the Court. Since then, the situation had worsened, according to national (OIP, Supervisory Board of Merksplas Prison) and international (CPT, UNCAT) statements made on the issue (§§73-76) indicating that psychiatric wings, including social protection units, were not suitable places of detention for people suffering from mental disorders, because of the general lack of staff, the poor quality and the lack of continuity in the treatment provided, and overcrowding (§107).

These findings were corroborated by the fact that the reports issued by the prison’s medical staff did not provide any explanation of the nature of the treatment said to have been provided to the applicant (§108). Moreover, based on reports issued in 2013 and 2014 on the applicant’s case, the Court noted that the applicant’s had made no progress in understanding his problems and appeared to need personal supervision even more strongly than at the start of his detention (§111).

The Court found that the applicant’s detrimental situation was the result of a structural problem : on the one hand, the medical care available to those detained in prison psychiatric wings was inadequate, and on the other, the placement outside the prison system was often impossible, either because of the lack of places in psychiatric hospitals or because the legislative framework did not allow the social protection authorities to order the admission of such individuals to outside facilities that viewed them as undesirable (§112). The Court pointed out that the obligation deriving from the Convention required suitable treatment to be provided to such offenders to help them to reintegrate into society as successfully as possible – as foreseen in the new Belgian legal framework that should entered into force in October 2016 (§113). In view of the foregoing, the Court declared that there had been a violation of Article 3 of the Convention.

Complaint under Article 5§1

The applicant complained that his continued detention in a social protection unit had been in breach of Article 5§1. The Court first observed that the prospect of transferring the applicant to an appropriate outside facility had been envisaged since 2009. The Court therefore concluded that the applicant’s detention in a psychiatric wing was regarded by the authorities as a temporary solution, and that the reason why he remained there was the structural lack of alternatives.

The Court recalled that in similar cases it found a violation of Article 5§1 on the ground that the detention of the applicants for a significant period in a psychiatric wing of a prison that was ill-suited to their needs had broken the link between the purpose and the conditions of his detention. It saw in the present case no reason to depart from this conclusion and held that there had been a violation of Article 5§1.

Complaint under Article 5§4 and Article 13 in conjunction with Article 3

The applicant complained he had had no effective remedy to complain about his detention conditions. The Court noted that the effectivity of the remedies available was undermined by the structural nature of the problem mentioned. It was the lack of suitable places in a non-prison environment and the lack of qualified staff in prison psychiatric wings, rather that the remedies themselves, that had resulted in the ineffectiveness of appeals to the social protection authorities and hindered the implementation of any favourable court decisions. As a result, the Court found a violation of Article 5§4 and of Article 13 in conjunction with Article 3.

Statement under Article 46

The Court encouraged the Belgian State to take action to reduce the number of offenders with mental disorders who were detained in prison psychiatric wings without receiving appropriate treatment, in particular by redefining the criteria for psychiatric detention. The Court welcomed the objective enshrined in law of providing therapeutic support to such detainees with a view to their reintegration into society. The Court gave the respondent Government a period of two years to remedy both the general situation and the situation of any applicants who had lodged similar applications with the Court before the delivery of this judgment and any who might apply to the Court subsequently.