Labita v. Italy

Application No. 26772/95
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The plaintiff applied to the European Court of Human Rights alleging that the conditions in the Italian prison Pianosa violated Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which prohibits torture and inhuman or degrading treatment.

The plaintiff was arrested on suspicion of involvement in a mafia-type organization, and transferred to Pianosa Prison. The prison medical register showed the plaintiff was in good health on arrival. Between July and September 1992, the plaintiff alleged he was subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment carried out by the wardens. The treatment included being regularly slapped, having his testicles squeezed, and being manhandled. Medical certificates from 1994 to 1996 noted the plaintiff’s false tooth being completely broken and in need of repair; two small calcified wounds on the plaintiff’s knee resulting from traumatic injury; and psychological disorders, including an abnormal physical weakness and lack of energy (asthenia), confusion, and depression. The state began investigating the plaintiff’s claims, but the plaintiff was unable to identify the wardens who were responsible. Consequently, the prosecutor applied to have the complaint dismissed.

The Court held that on the plaintiff’s allegations of abuse there was no Article 3 violation. To fall within the scope of Article 3, inhuman or degrading treatment must reach a minimum level. Moreover, allegations of inhuman or degrading treatment must be supported by sufficient evidence. The Court found that the material the plaintiff presented did not sufficiently support any claim of inhuman or degrading treatment. The plaintiff had not proven a causal link between his injuries and the alleged inhuman or degrading treatment, nor did the plaintiff provide a detailed account of the inhuman or degrading treatment.

With respect to the government’s duty to carry out an investigation of the plaintiff’s allegations, the court held the government violated Article 3. The plaintiff’s allegations together with other reports on the prison gave reasonable cause for suspecting that the plaintiff was subjected to ill treatment. Consequently, the state was obligated to conduct an effective official investigation. Although the state did carry out an investigation, the court was not satisfied that it was a thorough and effective investigation, given that it was put to an end without sufficient justification.

The Court confirmed the plaintiff’s remaining claims regarding violations of Articles 5, 6 and 8 of the Convention, of Article 2 of Protocol No. 4 to the Convention and Article 3 of Protocol No. 1.

“Allegations of ill-treatment must be supported by appropriate evidence. To assess this evidence, the Court adopts the standard of proof “beyond reasonable doubt” but adds that such proof may follow from the coexistence of sufficiently strong, clear and concordant inferences or of similar unrebutted presumptions of fact.” Para 121.

“The Court considers that where an individual makes a credible assertion that he has suffered treatment infringing Article 3 at the hands of the police or other similar agents of the State, that provision, read in conjunction with the State's general duty under Article 1 of the Convention to “secure to everyone within their jurisdiction the rights and freedoms defined in ... [the] Convention”, requires by implication that there should be an effective official investigation.” Para 131.

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