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NEWS

Guest Post: Spotlight on Inhumane Conditions in Hungary's Prisons

editor - April 1, 2015 - European Commission, European Parliament, legal experts advisory panel, Pre-trial detention

The overcrowding rate of penitentiaries has been constantly increasing in Hungary in the few last years, resulting in  Hungarian prisons being one of the most crowded prisons in Europe. The average overcrowding rate was 143% at the end of 2013, and over 200% in certain institutions, with pre-trial detainees constituting almost a third of the prison population.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) established the violation of the prohibition of inhumane or degrading treatment (Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights) in cases such as Szél v. Hungary (2011). As noted in a communication submitted by the Hungarian Helsinki Committee to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe in 2014, the general measures envisaged by the Hungarian government, with regard to the execution of these judgments, were insufficient and did not offer a viable solution to the systemic deficiencies causing overcrowding.

In a recent judgment (Varga and Others v. Hungary issued on 10 March 2015), the ECtHR concluded that the detention conditions of the six applicants, including their placement in overcrowded cells, amounted to the violation of Article 3 of the Convention. In addition, the ECtHR established the violation of Article 13, read in conjunction with Article 3, on account of the absence of an effective remedy to complain about the detention conditions.

Hungary prisonFor example, Mr Varga (one of the 3 clients of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee in the case)  spent 8 months in a cell where he had only 1.76 square meters of gross personal living space as opposed to the 3 square meters of floor space required by the ECtHR. In the course of his solitary confinement, he was granted only 30 minutes of outdoor stay per day, and poor sanitary conditions led to his skin infection. Personal living space of the remaining applicants varied between 1.5 to 3.3 square metres. In certain cases, only a curtain separated the rest of their cell from the lavatory, and poor ventilation led to unbearable temperatures. Access to shower facilities was limited, and some cells were infected with cockroaches and bedbugs.

According to the judgment, there are at present approximately 450 such applications before the ECtHR, which complain about similar detention conditions in Hungary.  In light of this, the ECtHR concluded that the overcrowding of prisons constitutes a structural problem in the country, and a pilot judgment was introduced. This set out a six-month period for Hungary to produce “appropriate arrangements and to put in practice preventive and compensatory remedies in respect of alleged violations of Article 3 of the Convention”. According to the judgment, this would reduce the number of prisoners by increasing the use of non-custodial punitive measures, and minimising the recourse to pre-trial detention. Accordingly, the solution is not simply building new penitentiaries.

The ECtHR decided not to adjourn the examination of similar pending cases in spite of the fact that a pilot judgment was adopted.  Rather, it found that continuing to process all conditions of detention cases in the usual manner will remind Hungary on a regular basis of its obligations under the Convention, and in particular, resulting from the judgment in the Varga and Others v. Hungary case.

This is a guest post written by the Hungarian Helsinki Committee and may not reflect the views of Fair Trials. Hungarian-Helsinki-Foundation-Logo The Hungarian Helsinki Committee (HHC) was established in 1989 and has been monitoring whether rights that are assured by domestic law can be effectively exercised, and whether Hungarian legislation guarantees the rights that it should under either international treaties or the general principles of human rights. . For regular updates follow Fair Trials on Twitter or sign-up to our monthly bulletin at the bottom of the page.

If you are a journalist interested in this story, please telephone Fair Trials’ press department on +44 (0) 20 7822 2370 or +32 (0) 2 360 04 71.

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