M.A. v. Cyprus

[2020] ECHR 37321/18
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The applicant is an inmate who argued that his living conditions did not meet the health standards set out under article 3 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms after being displaced from the prison’s mental health unit.

The applicant suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and severe visual impairment. He was prescribed medication to combat his schizophrenia that he would take for the rest of his life. The applicant stopped taking his medication and shot and killed his father. He was sentenced to 8 years in jail.

At the Nicosia Central Prisons, the applicant first resided in Block 10, which is used as a mental health unit within the prison. On January 16, 2017 the prison psychiatrist recommended the applicant be moved to Block 4, which is not a mental health unit, after viewing gradual improvement of the applicant’s symptoms.

The applicant first asked for a special computer to follow classes provided by the prison school. The prison responded that the applicant already had access to a special computer program for blind users, as well as audiobooks and CDs. An additional complaint regarding lack of activities was addressed by the prison’s special training and further computer programs. 

The applicant’s medical records also showed that the applicant was regularly assessed by the prison’s psychiatrist who provided remedies for his mental health. To ease the applicant’s noise concerns in block 4, the applicant was granted a CD player and audiobooks. The applicant also complained of being bullied in block 4.

The European Committee for Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment visited the Nicosia Central Prisons in 2017. It found that blocks 4 and 10 had been newly renovated, living conditions had improved, and many mental health-care employees were staffed.

The court held that in order for an ill treatment to come within the scope of section 3, the ill treatment must reach a minimum level of severity. To determine if the case at hand reached that minimum level, the court considered three relevant elements: 1) the medical condition of the prisoner, 2) the adequacy of the medical assistance and care provided in detention, and 3) the advisability of maintaining the detention measure in full in view of the applicant’s health. In this case the court largely focused on the second consideration of whether the medical assistance provided was adequate for observing the applicant’s section 3 rights.

The court found that the evidence had not conclusively established that the applicant was subject to distress or hardship of intensity exceeding the unavoidable level of suffering in detention. The court found that: both block 4 and 10 were newly renovated, the applicant had sufficient space to move around in block 4, the authorities duly responded to the applicant’s requests concerning his living standard issues and difficulties. The authorities responded to the applicant’s requests by: training the applicant in 2017 to move around and live with his disability, granting the applicant audiobooks and CDs, and rectifying the applicant’s bullying problem.

The court also observed that the applicant received adequate medical psychiatric and psychological treatment in both block 4 and 10. The applicant’s medical treatment and staffing did not change when he moved into block 4, the applicant’s treatments were never denied or delayed, and the applicant’s mental state even improved after consulting the prison psychiatrist.

“The Court reiterates that Article 3 of the Convention enshrines one of the most fundamental values of a democratic society, prohibiting in absolute terms torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. However, in order to come within the scope of Article 3, the ill-treatment must reach a minimum level of severity. The assessment of this minimum is a relative one and depends on all the circumstances of the case, such as the duration of the treatment, its physical or mental effects and, in some cases, the sex, age and state of health of the victim…” (Para 50)

“In deciding on the compatibility of an applicant’s health with his stay in detention, the Court considers at least three relevant elements: (a) the medical condition of the prisoner, (b) the adequacy of the medical assistance and care provided in detention, and (c) the advisability of maintaining the detention measure in view of the state of health of an applicant.” (para 51)