Epners-Gefners v. Latvia

Application no. 37862/02
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The applicant was arrested as he was suspected of committing aggravated robbery and thereafter convicted and sentenced to 6 years of imprisonment. The Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court upheld the decision of the first instance court. The Senate of the Supreme Court further dismissed the appeal of the applicant. The Jelgava Court ordered his release before the end of his sentence. His wife had given birth to their son before his conviction and he was allowed two visits from his wife during that time and four visits from his aunt. He received long-term visits during his sentence from his wife. The applicant stated that his wife and son had been denied a short-term visit once and while he was in custody, the domestic law did not provide for long-term family visits. The applicant alleged that he did not receive dental prosthetics free of charge. During detention his teeth had started to crumble and he did not receive sufficient or appropriate treatment. Therefore he alleged a violation of Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights (prohibition of inhuman and degrading treatment). The applicant also alleged that there had been a violation of Article 8 of the Convention (right to family and private life).

The Court held that there had been no violation of Article 3. It stated that there was nothing in the medical reports of the applicant to show that he required constant medical attention. It was the applicant himself who was negligent, as he did not follow the recommendations of the doctors. With respect to obtaining prosthetics, the doctors who had examined the applicant had never recommended the use of prosthetics and thus it was not a necessary form of treatment.

The Court further held that there had been no violation of Article 8 of the Convention as the applicant did receive two short-term visits during three years. There was no evidence that any other visit request was refused. Further, the Court observed that the applicant had not brought to the attention of the authorities the fact about his son being born. The Court stated that there had been no interference in private and family life of the applicant.

First of all, the Court notes that there is no indication in the applicant’s medical documents that his condition was of such a nature as to require constant medical supervision, in the absence of which he would face major health risks. Indeed, he had dental problems and these were addressed by the prison’s medical staff whenever he complained about them. The applicant did not show any interest in addressing these problems himself as he did not follow through the recommendations to consult a dentist on several occasions. Furthermore, when he saw the dentist for the first time in 2000, the applicant expressly refused any treatment (see paragraph 17 above). Nor did he have any further complaints in that regard for over one year. The Court is thus unable to conclude that the national authorities did not ensure proper medical supervision of the applicant’s condition. Secondly, the Court points out that the applicant himself admitted that in October 2001 extraction had been the only option. It was only after those extractions that he applied to the domestic authorities with a request for free-of-charge dental prosthetics. (Para 44)

Lastly, with regard to the possibility of obtaining dental prosthetics, it is important to note that the doctors who saw the applicant in the present case never recommended that he have dental prosthetics of any kind (see, on the contrary, V.D. v.Romania, no.7078/02, §§21and97, 16February 2010). Thus it cannot be said that dental prosthetics were a necessary treatment for the applicant’s condition. Furthermore, according to the Government’s submissions, which were not contested by the applicant, dental prosthetics were not available free of charge to the population generally in Latvia (see, on the contrary V.D. v. Romania, cited above, §§ 95 to 97). Nor is there any medical evidence that he had been starved or otherwise unable to receive sufficient sustenance while in custody (seemutatis mutandis Stojanović v. Serbia, no. 34425/04, § 80, 19May2009). Accordingly, the applicant’s suffering did not reach the minimum threshold of severity required under Article 3 of the Convention.” (Para 45)

Turning to the circumstances of the present case, the Court observes that in contrast to the above-mentioned cases, the current applicant was neither denied any short-term visits (contrast with Estrikh) nor did he apply for long-term visits while in a remand prison (contrast with Nazarenko). He did not complain to the domestic authorities but brought up this issue for the first time before the Court. In view of such circumstances and leaving aside the question of domestic remedies, especially in view of the Constitutional Court’s subsequent intervention on this issue (see paragraphs 33 and 34 above), the Court has to establish whether the facts, as presented to it, constitute an interference with the applicant’s family life within the meaning of Article 8 of the Convention.” (Para 64)