Denial of a surrender request by reason of inadequate prison conditions in the requesting Member State
Diary number: R2020/117
Issue date: 17.3.2020
Background of the case and the issue at hand
Pursuant to a European Arrest Warrant, the public prosecutor had requested that A, a Romanian national, be surrendered to Romania for purposes of execution of a four-year term of imprisonment. The District Court had denied the request, as it held it likely that, once in Romania, A would be placed in a facility that does not meet the minimum criteria for sufficient personal space as laid down in the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights. On appeal by the public prosecutor, the issue before the Supreme Court was whether A was under threat of inhuman or degrading treatment owing to the inadequacy of the prison conditions, and whether the surrender request should for this reason be denied.
Applicable legal provisions and relevant case-law
According to section 5(1)(6) of the Act on Surrender Procedures between Finland and Other Member States of the European Union, surrender was to be refused inter alia where there were reasonable grounds to suspect that the requested person is in danger of being subject to capital punishment, torture or other treatment violating human dignity. The national legislation was enacted so as to implement the EU Framework Decision 2002/584/JHA.
The Supreme Court made reference to the case-law of the Court of Justice of the European Union, under which the Framework Decision, as mentioned in Article 1(3) therein, does not have the effect of modifying the obligation to respect fundamental rights, as enshrined e.g. in the European Charter of Fundamental Rights. Accordingly, the executing judicial authority has under certain conditions the obligation to bring the surrender procedure to an end, where surrender may result in the requested person being subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment within the meaning of Article 4 of the Charter (Judgment of the Court (Grand Chamber) 15 October 2019, Dorobantu, C-128/18, EU:C:2019:857, paragraph 50, and the case-law referred to therein).
As regards the minimum criteria for prison conditions, the Supreme Court referred to the judgment of the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Muršić v. Croatia (20 October 2016), where it was held that when the personal space available to a detainee falls below 3 m2 of floor surface in multi-occupancy accommodation in prisons, there is a strong presumption of a violation of Article 3 ECHR. This presumption is normally capable of being rebutted by the government only if, firstly, the reductions in the required minimum personal space of 3 m2 are short, occasional and minor, secondly, the reductions are accompanied by sufficient freedom of movement outside the cell and adequate out-of-cell activities, and thirdly, the prison offers appropriate conditions, when viewed generally, and there are no other aggravating aspects of the conditions of the detainee. These criteria must be met cumulatively. The Supreme Court noted that also the Court of Justice of the European Union has considered the minimum criteria for prison conditions, as regards the personal space available to the detainee, in the light of the guidelines laid down by the European Court of Human Rights in the Muršić case.
Reasons and ruling of the Supreme Court
According to information provided by the Romanian prison authorities, as conveyed to the court by the public prosecutor, A would be placed in a facility called Rahova Bucarest for the first 21 days. After this first stage, A would probably first be transferred to the Galati Prison. Once A would have served one fifth of the sentence, A would probably be transferred to the Braila Prison into a so-called semi-open system; in view of the duration of the sentence of imprisonment passed on A, it is likely that this facility would be the location for the greater part of the totality of the four years of A’s imprisonment. It appears from the information that the personal space allocated to inmates in the semi-open system in operation in the Braila Prison is at least 2 m2.
The Supreme Court held, in accordance with the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights, that the allocated personal space of less than 3 m2 in the semi-open system in operation in the Braila Prison gave rise to a strong presumption of a violation of Article 3 ECHR and a corresponding violation of Article 4 of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights. That said, the public prosecutor had argued that the time spent in such cells was short, occasional and minor, as the semi-open system meant that the cell doors were open throughout the day and the inmates were in practice confined in the cells only at night.
The Supreme Court held that in the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights and the Court of Justice of the European Union the time spent under conditions of imprisonment falling below the minimum criteria had been assessed solely in view of the uninterrupted periods of time spent under such conditions. A rebuttal of the presumption of a human rights violation as defined by the European Court of Human Rights requires cumulatively that the detention is short, occasional and minor and that the detainee has sufficient freedom of out-of-cell movement. Consequently, the fact that a detainee has the chance to spend a given portion of a day out of cell is not relevant to the assessment of the duration or significance of the time spent in an overcrowded cell.
In conclusion, the Supreme Court held that there were reasonable grounds to suspect that the surrender of A to Romania would subject A to a danger of inhuman or degrading treatment. Accordingly, the surrender request was denied.