The implementation of ECtHR judgments concerning detention conditions in Romania, a political issue

 Penitentiary in Romania. Photo credit: APADOR-CH.

Penitentiary in Romania. Photo credit: APADOR-CH.

By APADOR-CH, Romania

There are currently 28.000 inmates detained in Romanian prisons despite the fact that they can only accommodate a maximum of 17.000. In 2015, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) found 27 Article 3 violations against Romania, the second highest number of cases lost in 2015 that year in respect to inhuman and degrading treatment.[1] The same year, the Court decided to join four applications and ask the parties if the cases were suitable for the application of the pilot judgment procedure.[2]

This decision to join the cases followed a semi-pilot judgment in the case of Iacov Stanciu v. Romania (no. 35972/05, 24 July 2012), in which the ECtHR emphasized that “the Court had regularly found violations of Article 3 of the Convention in respect of the conditions of detention that have existed over a number of years in Romanian prisons, in particular overcrowding, inappropriate hygiene and lack of appropriate health care.[3] Concerning the existence of effective domestic remedies, the Court noticed that they were not present in Romanian legislation and urged the state to take all measures to remedy the situation. The ECtHR emphasized that “the remedy—which, under Romanian law, relies mainly on a “delegate judge’s” should allow the delegate judge and the domestic courts to put an end to the situation and to grant compensation where appropriate”.[4]

In 2016, for the first time in 25 years, the Government (a”technocratic” one, following the resignation of Prime Minister Victor Ponta in November 2015) decided to pay attention to the situation of prison conditions. Thus, on 27 April 2016the Romanian Government adopted a memorandum for the approval of a  timetable for measures aimed to improve the detention conditions and the probation system. The document includes the plans for the construction of new prisons, envisaged to be ready by 2023.

On 1 July 2016, the Ministry of Justice and the National Administration of Penitentiaries adopted the Action Plan aimed at improving detention conditions. Its focus is on social reintegration, primarily on activities which will increase professional training that will facilitate access to work after release. The assumption is that on a long term this would lead to a lower reoffending rate and therefore to a decrease of the prison population.

On 23 November 2016, the Government also adopted a draft law amending and supplementing Law no. 254/2013 on the execution of sentences and custodial measures ordered by the court during the trial. [5]The bill has two purposes: (1) to provide compensation to persons serving sentences of imprisonment in conditions of severe overcrowding; and (2) to contribute at the same time to relieving the prison population. Thus, all persons deprived of their liberty shall automatically have the right to benefit from conditional release if they meet the conditions set by the draft law or who have been or are housed in overcrowded conditions (defined as a space smaller than or equal to 3 sqm). The draft law provides that for every 30 days spent by a prisoner in an inadequate space, three days are deducted from his/her original sentence (the 30 days need not be consecutive).

The measures adopted give us hope that in the future, judgments against Romania finding a violation of Article 3 will decrease. But with December’s parliamentary elections, which will lead to a new Government, it will be up to the new Parliament and Government to stick to the adopted plan.

 

[1]According to official statistics of the European Court of Human Rights, available at: http://www.echr.coe.int/Documents/Stats_violation_2015_ENG.pdf  (last visited on the 29h of November 2016)

[2] ECtHR, Rezmives and others v. Romania, http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng?i=001-157919 (last visited on the 29thof November 2016)

[3]ECtHR, IacovStanciu v. Romania, Application no. 35972/05, Judgment of 24 July 2012, para. 195

[4] ECtHR, IacovStanciu v. Romania, Application no. 35972/05, Judgment of 24 July 2012, para. 198

[5] This is the law on the enforcement of sentences and of measures involving deprivation of liberty ordered by the judicial bodies during criminal proceeding.