Solitary confinement

The author – P.R., Danish national, alleged that the Danish authorities subjected him to a treatment contrary to Article 3 of the Convention since they detained him on remand in solitary confinement from December 1994 until November 1995.
P.R. was arrested and charged with drug trafficking in connection with the importation of a consignment of papaya fruit, which contained 5,684 kilograms of cocaine. In 1994, the City Court ordered that the applicant be placed under solitary confinement as a preventive measure. The term of the preventive measure was extended several times due to the lack of reasonable explanations for the applicant’s involvement in the importation of drugs. The detention in solitary confinement was quashed in 1995 when P.R. confirmed that he had been involved in the fruit importation operations, but believed that smuggling disguised by the fruit was related to diamonds.
Thereafter, P.R. was held in detention under normal conditions until May 1996, when a higher court, sitting as a jury, acquitted P.R. of drug-related offences. Subsequently, P.R. brought proceedings before the court seeking compensation.
During the examination of the case on P.R.’s claim, medical reports were presented to the court, from which it followed that P.R. did not have any signs of mental illness before his detention, but at the time of the medical examination, that is, at the end of 1997, P.R.’s sense of reality was lost to such an extent that he could be characterized as a psychopathic personality, suffering, in all likelihood, from paranoid psychosis.
Moreover, taking into account P.R.’s special character traits and his mental vulnerability, the doctors found that it was most likely that the outbreak and development of his illness were linked to the fact that he had been placed in solitary confinement for a long time.
In a final judgment of 5 September 2000, the Danish Supreme Court awarded P.R. compensation in the amount of DKK 1,109,600 in respect of pecuniary damage suffered on account of his disability. P.R.’s claims for compensation for the non-pecuniary damage caused to him were rejected because the Supreme Court found that P.R. himself had contributed significantly to the application of the preventive measure chosen against him, in particular by changing his explanations in the case several times and actively obstructed the investigation into the version of drug smuggling, putting forward a “cover version”.
The Supreme Court found that there were no grounds for believing that P.R. had not been properly treated during his pre-trial detention and that, accordingly, no indication of a violation of the requirements of Article 3 of the Convention had been found in the file.
As regards compliance with the requirements of Article 3 of the Convention, with regard to the question whether the P.R.’s detention in solitary confinement was not excessive. The ECHR reiterates its position that the solitary confinement of a person does not in itself constitute a breach of the requirements of Article 3 of the Convention. Although it is undesirable to keep a person away from other people for a long time, the question of whether placement in solitary confinement falls within the scope of Article 3 of the Convention depends, among other things, on the specific conditions, severity, duration and consequences of the application of this measure in relation to a particular person.
The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture has emphasized that all forms of solitary confinement used without appropriate psychological or physical stimulation of the prisoner can have long-term devastating consequences for the individual, expressed in the deterioration of mental abilities and communication skills.
In the present case, the duration of the P.R.’s solitary confinement amounted to eleven months and fourteen days. While such a length of time may be a matter of concern, in assessing the circumstances of the case, the ECHR has taken into account the conditions of the P.R.’s detention and the degree of his isolation from the public. He was kept in a cell about eight square meters in size, with a TV set and access to newspapers.
Although he was forbidden to communicate with other prisoners, P.R. had regular contact with the prison staff, he was given weekly language lessons and was visited by the prison priest.
He received regular visits from doctors, nurses, and psychotherapists; he also had visits with family members and friends under the supervision of prison officials. In these circumstances, the ECHR held that a period of solitary confinement could not amount to treatment of a person in violation of the requirements of Article 3 of the Convention.
On the question of whether, there was effective medical supervision of P.R.’s mental health. The ECHR observes that on the very day of his arrest P.R. expressed his intention to commit suicide. In addition, in mid-January 1995, he went on a hunger strike, during which he was observed every day by doctors and once examined by a psychiatrist.
On the basis of the medical records submitted, the ECHR finds it established that P.R. was regularly visited by medical personnel and that they reacted quickly and intensified their surveillance of P.R. when he showed changes in mood or behaviour.
Furthermore, the ECHR recalls the testimony given by the chief consultant of the Copenhagen prisons before the domestic courts, in which it was stressed that none of the highly qualified and well-trained doctors and nurses who attended P.R. noticed any signs of mental disorder in P.R. Accordingly, the ECHR cannot share P.R.’s view that the medical supervision carried out on him was not, as such, adequate and sufficient.
It must be said that a psychologist or psychiatrist did not examine P.R. automatically or on a regular basis, but such a general obligation cannot be placed on the authorities. Finally, as regards the testimony of P.R.’s mother, P.R.’s cousin, the prison chaplain and teacher that P.R.’s behavior during solitary confinement should have encouraged the authorities to provide him with more specialized medical supervision, it should be noted: none of these witnesses expressed their concern on this issue to the courts or the prison administration, and this would be quite appropriate. In these circumstances, the ECHR concludes that P.R. did not have inadequate medical supervision.
The ECHR concluded that the requirements of Article 3 of the Convention had not been violated in the case.

21. November 2023

HUDOC 69332-01
  • Decision: 21 Juli 2005
  • Comm: