Vladimir Vasilyev v. Russia

Application no. 28370/05
Download Judgment: English

The applicant Mr Vladimir Aleksandrovich Vasilyev, a Russian national was born in1953. In 1996 he was arrested for attempted rape and several counts of murder. Later in December, 1997 he was convicted of rape and murder and was sentenced to death by the Supreme Court of the Komi Republic. In 1999 the President of Russia issued an act of clemency in respect of the applicant, replacing the death penalty with life imprisonment. The applicant sought a supervisory review of the clemency but remained unsuccessful.

During his detention from 1996 to 2000, he was kept at various detention facilities at Sosnogorsk remand center. In 2001 he was transferred to Solikamsk colony no. 2 in the Perm Region. During his time in the various prisons and detention centers, he was treated for several illnesses including frostbites, tuberculosis, diabetes, diabetic angiopathy (the generic term for a disease of the blood vessels) and other diseases. He was advised medication to lower his blood glucose and a diet accordingly. He was administered ‘Maninil’, an oral blood-glucose-lowering drug.

In 2005 the applicant lodged various complaints alleging inadequate treatment of diabetes, reading material on diabetes, insufficient nutrition and other health concerns including lack of orthopedic footwear. His allegations were rejected by the authorities stating that adequate treatments for his disease were given to him as per the joint Decree no. 640/190 of the Ministry of Health and Social Development and the Ministry of Justice, on Organization of Medical Assistance to Individuals Serving Sentences or Detained (hereinafter “the Regulation”)and the prison authorities, stated that the applicant was not provided with orthopedic footwear because of its unavailability. In 2005 he was admitted in prison hospital for his dental treatment which was well served. In 2006 the applicant complained about chest pain and was given medication. In the next three years, he underwent several check-ups and complaints. In 2009 the medical panel confirmed that the applicant was suffering from diabetes (Type 2) diagnosis and symptoms of encephalopathy but it ruled out any in-patient treatment.

The applicant made a civil complaint before the Ukhtinskiy District Court of the Komi Republic (hereinafter “the District Court”) against the Ukhta Department of the Interior, the Federal Ministry of Finance, the Prosecutor’s Office of the Komi Republic and three detention facilities. In the complaint, he alleged that he was not given the requisite medical assistance in 1996 and as a result of medical negligence on the part of the detention facility authorities’ parts of his feet were amputated. He also alleged that he had not been given a special diet adapted to his diabetes in the late 1990s. The District Court dismissed his claim on procedural grounds on several occasions.
The applicant re-submitted his claims before the district court in 2003, which appointed an expert committee. The expert committee ruled that the treatment administered to the applicant was appropriate. In 2005 the District Court held a hearing at which the applicant was neither present nor represented and finally it rejected his claims. The applicant went in appeal to the Supreme Court. He was informed by the Supreme Court that his absence would not stop or pause the proceeding. Despite the warning, the applicant was neither present nor represented at the appeal hearing. The Supreme Court upheld the first-instance judgment.
Finally an application was made before the European Court of Human Rights under Article 34 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms
(hereinafter “the Convention”) alleging inadequate treatment in the detention facility resulting in violation of Article 3 of the Convention which provides that “No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” The applicant further alleged the violation of Article 6 of ECHR citing unfair civil proceedings. He argued that the proceedings had been unfair because he had not been afforded an opportunity to be present at his court hearings due to detention.

The European Commission of Human Rights (hereinafter “the Commission”) declared the application admissible in respect of the applicant’s complaints concerning medical assistance after 18 January 2005 and the fairness of the civil proceedings but it declared the remainder application inadmissible. The Commission had to determine “whether during the relevant period of detention the applicant needed regular medical care, whether he was deprived of it as he claims, and if so whether this amounted to inhuman and/or degrading treatment contrary to Article 3 of the Convention.” The Court held that the prison authorities did not violate Article 3 of the Convention with respect to his complaints regarding dietary requirements, deficiency of dentures, and deterioration of eyesight.
It reasoned that while the efficiency of diabetes treatment depended on the combination of an adapted diet, medication, and monitoring, there was insufficient evidence for the Court to doubt the appropriateness of the nutrition and medication afforded to the applicant in detention. The Court found the complaints about deficiencies with his dentures, as well as his eyesight, hearing, and digestive problems, to be unsupported by his medical records.
But with respect to the orthopedic footwear, the Court held that there had been a violation of Article 3 due to the unavailability of such footwear by the prison authorities as it amounted to degrading treatment. It reasoned that the applicant’s toe on his right foot and the distal part of his left foot had been amputated and that his condition warranted a prescription of special footwear. Due to the lack of special footwear, the applicant had been subjected to distress and hardship, which exceeded the unavoidable level of suffering inherent in detention, and that the applicant’s health and well-being had not been adequately ensured. The Court ordered the Russia authorities to pay the applicant non-pecuniary damages.
With respect to Article 6 of the Convention, the Court held that there was a violation of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention. It reiterated that the principle of adversarial proceedings and equality of arms, are elements of the broader concept of a fair hearing and by virtue of it each party must be given a reasonable opportunity of being heard with adequate knowledge of the submissions and evidence put before the Court by the opposite party. In particular, the Court reasoned that testimony describing the specific conditions of his treatment, of which he had first-hand knowledge, was an “indispensable” part of his argument. As a result, the fact that he was not given an opportunity to be available to testify throughout his proceedings resulted in the violation of Article 6 of the convention. Finally the Court in lieu of Article 44 § 2 of the Convention, which provides for monetary compensation in case of violation of rights, held that Russia had to pay the applicant, within three months of the date on which the judgment becomes final EUR 9,000 (nine thousand euros) plus any taxes as the non-pecuniary damage.

“Ill-treatment that attains such a minimum level of severity usually involves actual bodily injury or intense physical or mental suffering. However, even in the absence of these, where treatment humiliates or debases an individual, showing a lack of respect for or diminishing his or her human dignity, or arouses feelings of fear, anguish or inferiority capable of breaking an individual’s moral and physical resistance, it may be characterized as degrading and also fall within the prohibition of Article 3.” Para 52.
“Where complaints are made about a failure to provide requisite medical assistance in detention, it is not indispensable for such a failure to lead to any medical emergency or otherwise cause severe or prolonged pain in order to find that a detainee was subjected to treatment incompatible with the guarantees of Article 3. The fact that a detainee needed and requested such assistance but it was unavailable to him may, in certain circumstances, suffice to reach a conclusion that such treatment was in breach of that Article.” Para 56.
“The national authorities must ensure that diagnosis and care in detention facilities, including prison hospitals, are prompt and accurate, and that where necessitated by the nature of a medical condition, supervision is regular and involves a comprehensive therapeutic strategy aimed at ensuring the detainee’s recovery or at least preventing his or her condition from worsening.” Para 58.

Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (Prohibition of torture): No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights (Right to a fair trial): In the determination of his civil rights and obligations or of any criminal charge against him, everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law. Judgment shall be pronounced publicly but the press and public may be excluded from all or part of the trial in the interests of morals, public order or national security in a democratic society, where the interests of juveniles or the protection of the private life of the parties so require, or to the extent strictly necessary in the opinion of the court in special circumstances where publicity would prejudice the interests of justice. Article 34 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (Individual applications): The Court may receive applications from any person, non-governmental organization or group of individuals claiming to be the victim of a violation by one of the High Contracting Parties of the rights set forth in the Convention or the protocols thereto. The High Contracting Parties undertake not to hinder in any way the effective exercise of this right.